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BX 9190 .M53 1842 
Miller, Samuel, 1769-1850 
An essay on the warrant, 
nature, and duties 








3^{iR>V OF 

A NEW EDITIO]?^ -f P Jw^ 













Reverend and Respected Brethren, 

The substance of the following Essay was de- 
livered from the pulpit, in the form of a sermon, 
more than twenty yeai's ago, and subsequently pub- 
lished. In consequence of repeated solicitation from 
some individuals of your number, I have thought 
proper to alter its form, to enlarge its limits, and to 
adapt it, according to my best judgment, to more 
general utility. It has long appeared to me, that 
a more ample discussion of this subject than I have 
hitherto seen, is really needed. And if the present 
volume should be considered as, in any tolerable 
degree, answering the desired purpose, I shall feel 
myself richly rewarded for the labour which has 
attended its preparation. 


Such as it is, my venerated friends, I inscribe it, 
most respectfully, to you. My first prayer in regard 
to it is, that it may be the means of doing some 
good ; my next, that it may be received by those 
whom I have so much reason to respect and love, 
as a well intended effort to benefit the church of 

I am aware that some of my brethren do not 
concur with me in maintaining the divine authority 
of the office of the Ruling Elder, and, probably, in 
several other opinions respecting this office advanced 
in the following pages. In reference to these points, 
I can only say, that as the original publication, of 
which this is an enlargement, was made without the 
remotest thought of controversy, and even without 
adverting in my own mind to the fact that I differed 
materially from any of my brethren, so nothing is 
more foreign from my wishes, in the republication, 
than to assail the opinions or feelings of any brother. 
I have carefully re-examined the whole subject, and 
although in doing this I have been led to modify 
some of my former opinions in relation to a few- 
minor points, yet in reference to the divine warrant 
and the great importance of the office for which I 
plead, my convictions have become stronger than 
ever. The following sheets exhibit those views, and 

that testimony in support of them, which at present 
satisfy my own mind, and which I fee] confident 
may be firmly sustained. How far, however, the 
considerations which have satisfied me may impress 
more impartial judges, I cannot venture to foretell. 
All that I dare to ask in their behalf is, that they 
may be seriously and candidly weighed. 

But there is one point in regard to which I an- 
ticipate no diversity of opinion. If the statement 
given in the following Essay concerning the duties 
incumbent on Ruling Elders be correct, it is certain 
that very inadequate views of those duties have been 
too often taken, both by those who conferred and 
those who sustained the office, and that there is a 
manifest and loud call for an attempt to raise the 
standard of public sentiment in reference to the whole 
subject. That we make so little of this office, com- 
pared with what we might do, and ought to do, 
does really appear to me one of the deepest de- 
ficiencies of our beloved church. That a reform in 
this respect is desirable, is to express but half the 
truth. It is necessary: it is vital. It has pleased 
the Sovereign Disposer to cast our lot in a period 
of mighty plans and of high moral effort for the 
benefit of the world. In the subject of this volume, 
I am inclined to think, is wrapped up one of those 


means which are destined, under his blessing, to be 
richly productive of moral energy in the enterprises 
of Christian benevolence, which appear to be every 
day gathering strength. When the rulers of the 
church shall, in the genuine spirit of the humble, 
faithful, and laborious Paul, " magnify their office ; 
when they shall be found cordially and diligently 
co-operating with those who ' labour in the word 
and doctrine,' " in inspecting, counselling, and watch- 
ing over the "flocks" respectively committed to their 
" oversight in the Lord ; '* and when they shall be 
suitably honoured and employed in their various 
appropriate functions, both by pastors and people: 
this change will, I believe, be at once one of the 
surest precursors, and one of the most efficient means 
of the introduction of brighter days in the church 
of God. 

So far as we can anticipate events, this important 
change must begin with the teachers and rulers of 
the church themselves. On every one of you, there- 
fore, if my estimate of the subject be correct, devolves 
a high and most interesting responsibility. That 
you may have grace given you to acquit yourselves 
of this responsibility, in a manner acceptable to our 
common Master, and conducive to the signal ad- 
vancement of his kingdom, and that future genera- 


tions, both in the church and out of it, may have 
reason to " rise up and call you blessed," is the 
fervent prayer of, 

Reverend and Respected Brethren, 
Your friend and Fellow-servant 
In the House of God, 


Princeton, ^pnY 20//<, 1831. 



Introductory Remarks — Nature of the Church — Visible and 
Invisible Church — Unity of the Church — A form of govern- 
ment for the Church appointed by Christ — Nature and hmits 
of ecclesiastical power — Summary of the doctrine of Presby- 
terians on this subject — The proper classes of officers in a 
Church completely organized — Positions intended to be esta- 
blished, as affording a warrant for the office of Ruling Elders. — 
p. 1—16. 


Testimony from the order of the Old Testament Church — 
import of the term Elder— Specimen of the representations 
given of this class of officers — Elders of the Synagogue — 
Authorities in reference to the government of the Synagogue — 
The titles, duties, number, mode of sitting, &c., of the Elders 
of the Synagogue — Quotations from distinguished writers on 
this subject — Burnet, Goodwin, Lightfoot, Stillingfleet, Grotius. 
Spencer, Clark, Neander. — p. 17 — 33. 


Evidence from the New Testament Scriptures — Model of the 
Synagogue transferred to the Church — Specimen of the passages 
which speak of the New Testament Elders — Particular texts 
which establish the existence of this class of Elders in the 
Primitive Church — Objections to our construction of these 
passages — Answered. — p. 34 — 54. 



Testimony of the Christian Fathers — Clemens Romanus, 
Ignatius, Poly carp, Cyprian, Origen, Gesta Purgationis, &c., 
Optatus, Ambrose, Augustine, Apostolical Constitutions, Iso- 
dore, Gregory — Facts incidentally stated by the Fathers con- 
cerning some of the Elders — Syrian Christians. — p. 55 — 83. 


Testimony of the Witnesses for the Truth in the Dark Ages 
— Waldenses, Albigenses — Bohemian Churches — Calvin derived 
this feature in his ecclesiastical system from the Bohemian 
Brethren.— p. 84—95. 


Testimony of the Reformers — Zuingle, Oecolampadius, 
Bucer, Peter Martyr, John A. Lasco, Calvin, Whitgift, Dean 
Nowell, Ursinus, Confession of Saxony, Szegeden, Magdeburgh 
Centuriators, Junius, Zanchius, Paraeus, Piscator, Cartwright, 
Greenham, Estius, Whitaker — Ruling Elders generally estab- 
lished in the Reformed Churches. — p. 96 — 117. 


Testimony of eminent divines since the Reformation — Owen, 
Baxter — English Puritans — of Nevv^ England — Goodwin, Hooker, 
Cotton, Davenport, Thorndike, Cotton Mather, Edwards, Kro- 
mayer, Baldwin, Suicer, Whitby, Watts, Doddridge, Neander, 
Dwight.— p. 118—141. 


Ruling Elders necessary in the Church — The importance of 
Discipline to the purity of the Church — Discipline cannot be 
maintained without this class of officers, or persons of equivalent 
powers — The Pastor alone cannot maintain it — The whole body . 
of the church cannot conduct it in a wise and happy manner- — 
Prelatists and Independents both obliged to provide substitutes 
for them. This provision, however, inadequate. — p. 142 — 159. 


Nature of the Ruling Elder's office — Analogy between their 
office and that of secular rulers — Their duties as members of 
the Church Session — Their more private and constant duties as 
" overseers" of the Church — Their duties as members of higher 
judicatories — Question discussed whether they ought to be called 
Lay Elders — Duties of the Church Members to their Elders — 
Elders ought to have a particular seat assigned them. — p. 160 


Distinction between the office of Ruling Elder and Deacon — 
The persons whose appointment to take care of the poor is 
recorded in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, were 
the first deacons — The question discussed, whether they were 
Deacons at all — Whether the first Deacons were preachers and 
baptisers ? — Deacons were never Ecclesiastical Rulers — The 
office of Deacon dropped by many Presbyterian churches — The 
offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon united in the same men, in 
Scotland and the United States — This not desirable — Reasons 
for this opinion. — p. 181 — 205. 


The qualifications proper for the office of Ruling Elder — It is 
not necessary that they be aged persons — It is of the utmost im- 
portance that they have unfeigned and approved piety — That 
they possess good sense and sound judgment — That they be or- 
thodox, and well informed in gospel truth — That they have emi- 
nent prudence — That they be of good report among them who 
are without — That they be men of public spirit — That they be 
men of ardent zeal and importunate prayer. — p. 206 — 220. 


Of the election of Ruling Elders — Who are proper Electors ? 
— Ought they to be elected for life, or only for a limited time ? 
— Of the number of Elders proper for each Church — Of those 


who may be considered as eligible to this office — Whether a 
man may be a Ruling Elder in more than one Church at the 
same time.— p. 221—234. 


Of the ordination of Ruling Elders — Ordination a necessary 
designation to office — Proofs from Scripture — The laying on of 
hands — Not always connected with the special gifts of the Spirit 
— This ceremony ought to be employed in the ordination of 
Ruling Elders — Probable reason of its falling nto disuse — 
Authorities in favour of its restoration — Who ought to lay on 
hands in the ordination of Elders ? — Advantages of imposing 
hands in ordaining this class of officers. — p. 235 — 251. 


On the resignation of Ruling Elders — Their removal from 
one Church to another — The method of conducting discipline 
against them.— p. 252—258. 


The advantages of conducting discipline upon the Presby- 
terian plan — It is founded on the principle of Representation — 
It presents one of the best barriers against Clerical ambition 
and encroachments — Furnishes one of the best securities for 
preserving the rights of the people — Furnishes to Ministers 
efficient counsel and support — Favourable to dispatch and en- 
ergy — Accomplishes that which cannot be attained in any other 
way — Favourable to union and co-operation in enterprizes of 
Christian benevolence. — p. 259 — 277. 


r-r- ,r- •**"*^ » 


The prosperity of the kingdom of Christ is an 
object which the genuine Christian will ever assidu- 
ously labour to promote. It is the prevalence of the 
Christian faith alone which can effectually destroy the 
numberless evils which afflict society, and direct to 
a beneficial result the improvements and discoveries 
which are made in the arts and sciences. The great 
end for which the human race was first brought into 
existence, was to show forth the glory of God; and the 
highest perfection of which our nature is susceptible, 
consists in the entire devotion of our powers to the 
service of Heaven. The world in which we dwell 
may be viewed as one great temple, in which adoration 
and praise are to be paid to the Sovereign Ruler; and 
those who busy themselves with the things which are 
seen and temporal, to the exclusion of those which are 
unseen and eternal, are chargeable with the folly of 
preferring the decorations of the building to the pre- 
siding Deity whose glory it illustrates. Love to God 
should be the paramount feeling in every human breast, 
and obedience to the sacred laws of Heaven the lofty 
object to which all our exertions are directed. 

The object of the mission of Christ to this world 
was to restore the wretched sons of Adam to the ori- 


ginal dignity of their nature, and to place them in 
circumstances in which they might be enabled to fulfil 
the purposes of their being. In accomplishing this 
glorious end, the Saviour did not merely, like many of 
those who have aspired to be the teachers and guides 
of mankind, diffuse through society information re- 
specting the duties of life ; but he appointed that all 
those persons, who should be brought to concur with 
the designs of God in the gospel, should be formed 
into one body or association; and his followers are 
required, by the love which he cherished towards them, 
and which his death so strikingly displayed, to regard 
each other with the tenderest sentiments of affection. 
Christians are forbidden by the very spirit of their 
religion to act as if they were isolated individuals, scat- 
tered through society, and, like particles of sand, held 
together by no bond of union : it is their duty to regard 
each other as all one in Christ, and they should be 
strongly united together by the cement of Christian 
laffection. And though certainly the Church of God 
does not destroy our connection with other societies, 
such as families and kingdoms, yet, because its objects 
and the interests involved in it are immeasurably more 
important than those of any other connection, we are 
required in all cases of competition to give it the pre- 
ference. We must regard our union with the Chris- 
tian church as the loftiest privilege which we possess; 
and we must cleave to it with unyielding tenacity, what- 
ever sacrifices our perseverance in the service of Christ 
may require at our hands. " If any man come to me," 
says the Saviour, " and hate not his father, and mother, 
and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea 
and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." 
Every earthly affection must dwindle into nothing, when 
compared with the love which we cherish to the 
Son of God. 

The Kingdom of Christ, then, comprehends under 
its sway all those persons who are renewed in the spirit 
of their minds, and united to the Saviour by faith. 

Its subjects, though living among the men of the world, 
and united to them by the ties of kindred and country, 
are a separate people, invested with privileges to which 
others are strangers: they are mechanically, but not 
chemically combined with the rest of mankind. And 
their interest as a peculiar people requires that they 
should ever be careful to keep themselves distinct from 
the world ; mingling in its scenes only so far as the 
business of life may require, and making all their 
intercourse with the wicked, subservient to the design 
of bringing them to a knowledge of the truth. 

One of the means which Christ, the Head of the 
Church, has appointed for preserving his people from 
the corruptions which abound in the world, is the sys- 
tem of control or of government which he has esta- 
blished in his kingdom. Living in the midst of a 
crooked and perverse generation, even the saints them- 
selves are liable to be seduced into sin; and too fre- 
quently, besides, does it happen that persons who have 
never been truly converted, find their way into the 
communion of the church ; and therefore it was indis- 
pensably necessary that means should be appointed for 
ensuring the expulsion of unworthy and irreclaimable 
members, and for restraining and confirming those 
whose conduct might be in any measure suspicious or 
wavering. It must, indeed, be evident to every per- 
son who reflects upon the subject, that government is 
as necessary to the prosperity of the church, as it is to 
the welfare of civil society. Numbers of men cannot 
act together, unless their proceedings be regulated by 
some known and acknowledged principles; and in all 
cases of co-operation the power must be vested some- 
where, of enforcing upon individuals compliance with 
the fundamental principles by which they are associated 

There is a prejudice, we are aware, entertained 
by many against the very idea of the power of the 
church ; and it must be acknowledged that some ground 
has been furnished for it, by the proceedings of persons 


who have borne the Christian name. During the 
periodwhenthesway of the Papal power was undisputed, 
the censures of the church were stript entirely of their 
spiritual character, and instead of being employed to 
reclaim the erring and to confirm the unstable, they were 
prostituted to the advancement of worldly schemes. 
Frequently were even monarchs, when they opposed 
the will of the haughty Pontiff, made to tremble upon 
their thrones; and though they might persevere for a 
time in asserting their independence, they were gene- 
rally compelled at last, with loss both of honour and of 
influence, to submit to the spiritual tyranny which they 
had rashly dared to encounter. Excommunication was 
one of the most dreadful calamities which could befal 
either prince or subject, for it excluded its unhappy 
victim from the most common offices of humanity, and 
placed him beyond the protection of law. Nor were 
the rulers of the Romish church the only persons, who 
fell into the dangerous error, of connecting civil punish- 
ments with disobedience to spiritual authority: the 
Protestants followed the fatal example which the adhe- 
rents of Rome had set them, and for a long series of 
years their conduct was such as too clearly to show 
that they had deeply drunk of the cup which 
bigotry and intolerance had filled. The opinion 
indeed, it is manifest from history, universally pre- 
vailed at the period referred to, that penal statutes 
were the proper weapons by which uniformity of reli- 
gious belief should be secured; and as every party of 
course believed themselves to be in the right, and all 
who differed from them to be in the wrong, the first 
attempt of each, whenever the opportunity occurred, 
was to force others to confess their supposed errors, 
and publicly to recant them. The whole history of 
England teems with proofs of the justice of these ob- 
servations. Need we mention the long-continued and 
cruel persecutions carried on by the Protestant Church 
of England against the Puritans, which were more 
atrocious, if possible, than any of the Popish persecu- 


tions, inasmuch as the difference between the Church 
of England and the Puritans, in the first instance at 
least, was trifling compared with the difference between 
both and the Church of Rome. Nor were the Puri- 
tans themselves free from the foul stain of persecuting 
for conscience' sake. Whatever opinion we may form 
of them from their early history, their conduct after 
the Great Rebellion makes it exceedingly manifest, that 
they had been slow to learn the lesson which the bit- 
ter experience of so many years might have taught 
them. Many were the complaints thrown out against 
the Government, especially by the Presbyterians, for 
the slowness with which they proceeded to bring the 
other parties to order, or, as the expression translated 
into modern English signifies, to compel them to re- 
nounce their religious opinions; and there can be no 
doubt, when the unsettled and excited state of the 
kingdom is duly considered, that, if Cromwell had 
not been a man of uncommon energy, and advanced 
far before the age in which he lived in his notions of 
religious liberty, there would have raged in England 
as fierce a persecution as any of which we read in his- 
tory. But though truth thus compels us to confess 
that the Puritans themselves were tainted with the 
spirit of persecution, justice at the same time requires 
us to state, that they have the signal honour of being 
the first who renounced the abominable and pernicious 
principle, that one man has a right to constitute him- 
self the judge of his neighbour's faith. 

When these facts are considered, it will be readily 
acknowleged, that the prejudice which many enter- 
tain against the power of the church, is exceedingly 
natural. In the hands of worldly and designing men 
that power was converted into a weapon, which proved 
the bane alike of the temporal and of the spiritual 
interestsof mankind; and it need not excite our wonder, 
that men should dread the recurrence of similar scenes. 
But widely different is the view which we entertain of 
the power of the church: most unscriptural as well as 


most unreasonable, do we regard the slightest approach 
to the employment of civil pains and penalties for the 
defence or support of religion. The power which is 
vested in the office-bearers of the Christian church, is 
derived solely from the authority of Christ; and it is 
entirely of a spiritual nature, extending not to the 
persons, but simply to the consciences of men. When 
any member of a Christian society is walking in a dis- 
orderly manner, whatever may be the nature of his 
fault — whether a neglect of the ordinances of religion, 
or impurity of conduct, or a refusal to contribute of 
his substance for the support of the gospel — it is the 
duty of the office-bearers to wait upon him, and in a 
spirit of kindness to admonish him of his error, and to 
urge him to repentance and amendment of life; but 
should he refuse to listen to their reproof, should he 
despise their authority, yea, should he even proceed to 
the fearful extent of blaspheming the name of Christ, 
the utmost length to which they are warranted to go, is 
to declare that he can no longer be recognised as one of 
their body. No power on earth may legitimately add 
to this sentence. The excommunicated individual 
retains all his civil rights, enjoys his property without 
disturbance, and is as safe in his person as if he were 
sovereign of the world. No civil disabilities, or bodily 
inflictions, or loss of property should be connected 
with the sentence of excommunication: the punishment 
of spiritual offences is reserved by the Almighty in his 
own hands. We are members of civil society by the 
very condition of our birth; we become members of 
the Church by receiving Christ in faith — two condi- 
tions of membership which are fundamentally and ra- 
dically distinct; and, therefore, to make the privileges 
of the worldly community hinge upon the privileges of 
the spiritual, is to join together things which have no 
natural connection. 

But here it will be said, that though the church has 
confessedly no right to inflict upon any of her mem- 
bers a greater punishment than exclusion from her 


communion, yet the nation may, and ought to exclude 
from civil privileges all persons who fall under the dis- 
pleasure of the church. This is the old doctrine that 
dominion is founded in grace, a doctrine which has 
been the source of nearly all the persecutions that have 
happened in the world. The principle proposed bears 
a most striking resemblance to the principle upon which 
the church of Rome defends her conduct. That church, 
according to the pleading of her own friends, was never 
guilty of inflicting temporal punishments upon any whom 
she had declared heretics. She only pronounced the 
scriptural sentence of excommunication, and then 
handed the delinquents over to the secular arm of the law; 
and it was the magistrate who kindled the flames, while 
the hypocritical priests with seeming earnestness im- 
plored him, upon their bended knees, to have mercy 
upon the wretched sufferers. But most people will be 
inclined to think that there is no difference of any 
real importance between this representation of the 
case, and the view which is commonly received. If 
I am to be excluded from civil privileges and con- 
signed to the flames, it matters litde to me whether 
it be by the direct sentence of the church, or by the 
state founding its proceedings upon the excommunica- 
tion previously pronounced by the church. 

Do we then deny the right of a nation to fix the 
qualifications of its own rulers ? By no means. The 
principle which we uphold is, that every nation has a 
right to settle the form of its own government; yea, that 
the legitimacy of any government depends, notupon the 
length of time during which it may have existed, but 
simply upon the fact of its being in accordance with 
the national will ; and the principle opposed to this is, 
that dominion is founded in grace, or that certain 
descriptions of persons have a right to rule indepen- 
dently of the nation's consent. The persons who have 
a right to sit in the legislative assembly of a nation 
are those who are fairly chosen by the electors, unre- 
stricted in their choice, and voting for whom they 
please. The character of Parliament must be deter- 

mined by the character of the nation. Any attempt 
to regulate by previous law, independently of the 
national will, what the prevailing sentiments of the 
supreme assembly shall be, must prove highly per- 
nicious : for infallibly it will either happen, that the 
resentment of the proscribed classes will be roused, 
and disorganization introduced into the framework of 
society; or the required oaths and tests will degenerate, 
by tacit agreement, into matters of mere form, and thus 
will the foundations of the public morals be destroyed, 
while at the same time the end for which this tremendous 
sacrifice is made is not attained. If there are any 
individuals who think that certain descriptions of per- 
sons alone are qualified to rule, the course which they 
should adopt is, not to advocate the enactment of laws 
confining political privileges to men of their views, 
but to labour with all their might for the diffusion of 
what they esteem sound principles through society, that 
the electors may be converted to their opinions, and 
induced to support them. We are as deeply convinced 
as any persons can be, that genuine Evangelical 
Christians, men who have passed from death to life, 
will always prove the most upright rulers, but we 
shouldregard, as utterly futile and unjust, every attempt 
which might be made to confine to them political privi- 
leges by positive enactment. Such a system may be 
practicable under a despotic government, but where 
the elective franchise is enjoyed, the only course which 
remains, is to diffuse the principles ofpureandundefiled 
religion throughout every corner of the land ; and 
then it will infallibly happen, sooner or later, that the 
governing power will receive a large infusion of prac- 
tical Christianity. The electors are the fountain of 
Parliament : make the fountain pure and the stream 
will be pure also. And as it is only by the diffusion 
of correct principles through the mass of society, that 
a right government can be established ; so it is only by 
the preservation of a right tone of feeling among the 
electors, that the continued existence of such a govern- 


ment can be secured. The favourite method to which 
parties, when they have risen to power, have ever been 
prone to resort, viz. the exclusion, by positive enact- 
ment, of all who differ from them, is wrong in prin- 
ciple, seeking fruit where the seed has not been sown ; 
and it must prove utterly unavailing to stem the tor- 
rent which a constituency, altered by the lapse of time, 
will pour in upon the constitution. It is in vain that 
one generation of men endeavours, by the use of tests 
and prohibitions, to make any human institution bear 
the impress of their own sentiments to the end of time ; 
for each generation retains all the rights which any 
preceding generation ever possessed ; and therefore, 
whenever it happens that any institutions have ceased 
to be in unison with the spirit of the age, they must of 
necessity give way — brought down by the rude hand 
of violence^ where exclusive laws enacted in their favour 
have been obstinately adhered to, or fading imper- 
ceptibly away, like the snow before the increasing 
power of the sun, where no test has prevented the 
governing body from gradually adapting itself to the 
changes of society. 

Let those persons therefore, who are impressed with 
the importance of having the reins of government 
placed in the hands of genuine Christians, instead of 
deploring the want of exclusive laws to shut out Ca- 
tholics and Infidels, labour to leaven the mass of society 
with the knowledge of the truth. Christianity, in re- 
forming the institutions and manners of a country, 
does not begin with the government. It commences 
with individuals, generally in the lower ranks of life : 
its influence extends from one person to another : 
imperceptibly the number of its adherents increases ; 
the litde leaven leaveneth at last the whole lump. 
Christians thus gradually acquire more extensive in- 
fluence, till at last their principles begin to control the 
measures of governmenc. But all the while their 
power depends upon the hold which true religion has 
upon the aff*ections of the inhabitants, and any attempt 


to build it upon the essentially different foundation of an 
exclusive test, destroys the moral influence of its charac- 
ter, and leads to the fatal idea that the Christianity of 
the statute book, may be regarded as a sufficient sub- 
stitute for the Christianity of the country. The king- 
dom of Christ cometh not with observation ; it is 
within men, and there is more or less of religion in a 
country — it is partly Christian and it is partly Infidel, 
whatever acts of Parliament may say, just according 
to the proportion which the genuine followers of the 
Redeemer bear to the rest of the inhabitants. 

In perfect accordance with these principles, and 
leading indeed directly to them, is the doctrine of ex- 
communication as laid down in the word of God. It 
imports exclusion simply from the religious privileges 
of the society whose fundamental laws have been des- 
pised, but it does not imply any deprivation of civil or 
political rights, any loss of property, or any bodily 
suffering. The individual who has been expelled from 
the church, as well as the individual who has never 
been a member of it, retains every right which might 
belong to him as a member of the community ; and 
any evil or inconvenience which he may suffer, is alto- 
gether of an indirect kind, not forming part of his 
sentence, but resulting out of the diminished confidence 
which his fellow-men, if Christianity be widely diffused, 
will naturally feel disposed to place in him. 

From the account which we have given of the nature 
of ecclesiastical authority, and of the limits beyond 
which it is never permitted to go, it must be apparent, 
that the prejudices which many have entertained against 
it, are altogether unfounded. The power of the church 
is indeed nothing more than the right which every 
voluntary society possesses, of excluding from its 
membership those persons who despise and trample 
upon its fundamental laws. It is the power of enforcing, 
not by carnal weapons, but by the sanctions of the 
spiritual world, by the prospect of a future judgment, 
by the terrors of the Lord, the laws which Christ has 

XI 11 

laid down for the regulation of the conduct of 
Christians. And though some persons might be dis- 
posed to think that the addition of a little temporal 
suffering, either in person, or property, or rights, could 
not hinder, but might rather tend to aid the effect of 
the sentence of the church, yet the very nature of the 
case stamps the seal of folly upon such an idea. The 
value of the sentence of excommunication depends 
upon the preservation of its spiritual character. If 
any ingredients of an earthly kind are thrown into the 
cup which the offender is required to drink, the con- 
sequence inevitably is that a wrong motive is brought 
to bear upon his mind ; and for the sake of avoiding 
the temporal suffering, he may be strongly tempted to 
make professions of a sorrow of which there is no trace 
in his heart. But when the power of the church, 
shorn of all those base and earthly accompaniments 
which the wisdom of man has added to it, rises in 
simple majesty, and addresses the conscience of the 
offender, appealing to the future world, and to that 
God who though unseen by us yet sees us all, it is 
eminently calculated to produce a deep impression 
upon the mind; and the manner in which the final 
decision is received, will furnish an excellent criterion 
by which the spiritual state of the individual may be 
determined. Every person who is brought under! 
discipline by the church, should be made to feel, and| 
if visited with the sentence of excommunication, should | 
be sent away with the impression upon his mind, that j 
it is not his degradation or temporal ruin which is I 
sought, but solely the welfare of his immortal soul J 
Temporal suffering, it is true, if it comes in the course 
of God's providence, associated with the sentence of 
excommunication, may produce the happiest results; 
but if it is inflicted by the hand of man, and forms 
part of the sentence pronounced by the rulers of the 
church, it will either lead to hypocrisy, or to increased 
open profanity. 

Such is the nature of the authority which Christ has 


established in his church, and such are the only 
sanctions which men are permitted to employ for the 
purpose of securing attention to the institutions of 
religion. In Presbyterian churches the power of 
carrying these laws into effect, and of bringing these 
sanctions to bear upon the consciences of men, is vested 
in the sessions of particular congregations, and in the 
associated office-bearers of all the congregations of a 

The Presbyterian form of Church government 
appears to us to be founded in scripture, and to be 
admirably calculated to promote the prosperity of the 
body of Christ. The pastoral equality which it estab- 
lishes, the representative character of its elders, and 
the subordination of its courts, are excellent safe- 
guards against injustice and tyranny; and furnish the 
best means of preserving from encroachment the rights 
of all the parties concerned. Presbytery differs from 
Episcopacy in this, that while the latter recognises 
different orders of teachers, the inferior deriving their 
power from the superior, and placed under their con- 
trol, the former places all Christian ministers upon a 
level, and requires the designation to the sacred office 
to be made by those who have themselves been pre- 
viously appointed to it. The difference, again, between 
the Presbyterian and the Independent forms of church 
government is this, that among the Independents there is 
no association of neighbouring churches for the purposes 
of government, but each congregation is the ultimate 
tribunal with reference to all the disputes which 
originate in itself ; while among the Presbyterians all 
the churches of a neighbourhood are associated toge- 
ther, and their office-bearers or representatives are 
formed into a judicature, to which there lies an appeal 
from the decision of each particular church. 

But there is another feature peculiar to Presbytery, 
which distinguishes it, both from Episcopacy on the one 
hand, and from Independency on the other, and which 
is indeed the most remarkable characteristic of that 


form of government, we refer to the office of the ruling 
elder. Among the Episcopalians, the ordinary mem- 
bers of the church have no share in its government : 
the bishop is the fountain of all power in his own 
diocese, and the inferior clergy derive their authority 
from him. Among the Independents, on the other 
hand, the government of the church is vested in the 
members themselves ; and there is no distinction 
between the rulers and the ruled: they are identically 
the same body. But the Presbyterians take a middle 
and wiser course. They avoid the dangerous extreme 
of investing any one man with uncontrolled authority, 
and they avoid the no less hazardous measure of 
elevating all to the rank of rulers. They place the 
government of the church not in the pastor alone, nor 
yet in the members indiscriminately, but in persons 
chosen by the members, and acting as their represen- 
tatives. Episcopacy is a system of despotic tyranny : 
Independency is a pure democracy, while Presbytery 
is that happy medium, which places the management 
of affairs, in which all have an interest, in the hands of 
representatives, in whose election all have a voice. 
Presbytery, in a word, is founded upon that very 
principle, viz. the principle of representation, which is 
now universally regarded as the corner-stone of free- 
dom, and which experience has shown to be the only 
principle which can enable bodies of men to act, at 
once with promptitude and in accordance with the 
mind of the majority. 

But whatever might be the advantages of the Pres- 
byterian form of church government, and however 
great the analogy between it and the principles which 
experience has shown to be the best in conducting 
the civil affairs of a nation, we at once acknowledge 
that, unless it could be shown from scripture that a 
foundation existed for it there, all such considerations 
would be insufficient to prove its propriety, or its law- 
fulness in the Church of Christ. The constitution 
and laws of the Redeemer's kingdom are laid down in 


the sacred writings, and nothing is binding upon 
Christians which cannot be deduced from the precepts 
of the gospel. In all controversies, the appeal must 
be made to the law and to the testimony : the grand 
inquiry must ever be. What saith the Scripture? 

The distinguishing features, then, of the Presbyterian 
form of church government, are the equality of its 
teachers, and the existence of a separate class, styled 
ruling elders, whose office it is to manage the spiritual 
affairs of the church. 

In maintaining the equality of Christian teachers, 
it is with the Episcopalians alone that we have any 
controversy ; for the Independents allow, as well as 
the Presbyterians, that there is only one permanent 
order of religious teachers authorized by the sacred 
Scriptures ; but the Episcopalians have several orders, 
viz. archbishops, bishops, arch-deacons, deans, 
rectors, &c. It is proper however to remark, that 
the Episcopalians themselves do not maintain that all 
their different orders are to be found in the Bible : 
there are only two which they pretend to find there, 
viz. bishops and presbyters, though they imagine, that 
when once the princple of subordination is established, 
there is no harm in carrying it out to a further extent, 
and creating as many different orders as the circum- 
stances of the case may seem to require. Is it true 
then that there were two classes of Christian teachers 
appointed by Christ to exist permanently in the church, 
the one subordinate to the other? We believe the 
very reverse to be the case. A small degree of ex- 
amination will make it apparent that the bishop of the 
word of God is the pastor of a single congregation, 
and not, like the bishop of the Church of England, 
the superintendent of all the teachers residing in a 
large district of country. The main argument which 
the Episcopalians employ in defence of their views, is 
founded upon the fact that the ministers appointed by 
the apostles, are styled in scripture, sometimes bish- 
ops, and sometimes presbyters ; whence they hastily 


infer that, since these names are different, they wei'e 
intended to designate two different classes, or orders of 
teachers. But every person who has read the sacred 
writings with care, must be sensible that the names in 
question are applied in numerous passages to the very 
same individuals, and are frequently interchanged 
without any restriction ; whence it plainly follows that 
they were intended to designate not two different 
classes, but one and the same class of religious in- 
structors. It is sufficient to refer to the portions of 
scripture which contain the evidence of these state- 
ments. The following may be consulted : Acts xx. 
17—28. Titus i. 5—7. 1 Peter v. 1, 2. Phil. i. 1. 
1 Tim. iii. 1 : in which passages the attentive reader 
win find, in the first place, that the very same 
individuals who are styled presbyters or elders, are 
likewise styled bishops or overseers, or persons taking 
the oversight of the church, which latter phrases are 
all translations of the same original term ; and secondly, 
that when exhortations are given to persons holding 
office in the church, bishops and deacons alone are 
mentioned, making it clear beyond reach of doubt, 
that the teaching elders, or the pastors of single con- 
gregations, are either addressed as bishops, or have 
not been supposed by the apostles to stand in need 
of any charge at all. 

The second characteristic of Presbytery, which 
distinguishes it equally from Episcopacy, and from 
Independency, is its recognition of a class styled ruling 
elders, whose office it is, not to preach the word 
publicly, but to aid the preaching elder in conducting 
the spiritual affairs of the church. There was a time 
when this class of office-bearers was very extensively 
acknowledged to be scriptural, both by the Episcopa- 
lians and by the Independents, but it is now confined 
to the Presbyterians; and experience has amply shown 
that it is of immense importance to the welfare of the 
Christian community. But it is unnecessary that we 
should enter into any discussion respecting the office 


of the ruling elder ; for this is the very subject to the 
consideration of which the following treatise is devoted. 
Overlooking the first branch of the general question, 
of which we have taken a hasty view, the author con- 
fines his attention entirely to the second branch, viz. 
the office of the ruling elder: and the scriptural war- 
rant for this office, and its vast utility he establishes, in 
our estimation, with a variety and force of evidence 
which it is impossible to resist. The whole treatise, 
indeed, is excellent, and it cannot fail to be of essential 
service to the Christian world. The men especially 
who have been ordained to the office of the eldership 
should be familiar with its contents: the perusal of its 
pages would greatly elevate their views of the sacred 
office to which they have been called, and lead to 
increased conscientiousness in the discharge of its 

Such is the system or framework of government, 
which Christ has appointed, as the means of dispensing 
and applying that power of the church, whose pur- 
poses we have described, and whose nature and limits 
we have endeavoured to define. The elders, both 
teaching and ruling associated together, are the persons 
whom the Redeemer has invested with the power of 
carrying into effect the laws of his kingdom. On 
them is devolved the task of preserving the purity of 
the church : to them are given the opportunity and 
the means of exerting a salutary control over all 
professing Christians ; their duty it is to instruct the 
ignorant, to reclaim the backsliding, to confirm the 
unstable, and to console the afflicted ; and according 
to their decision are persons both to be received into 
membership with the church, and expelled from her 
communion. The highest sentence w^hich the Scrip- 
ture warrants, together with all the inferior steps of 
discipHne, the Head of the Church has placed in their 
hands, as the means of counteracting and expelling any 
leaven of wickedness whose presence may be observed. 


and whose unchecked growth might endanger the wel- 
fare of the whole body. 

These are duties, the bare enumeration of which is 
sufficient to demonstrate, the vast importance of the 
office of the eldership, and the high responsibility 
which devolves upon those who undertake to act as 
the spiritual overseers of the church. On their fidelity, 
under God, depends the purity of the body of Christ: 
on the right discharge of their duties is suspended the 
fate of thousands. If they are negligent of the spiritual 
functions which devolve upon them, and careless of 
their own private conduct, they may be the means of 
introducing a total degeneracy of manners into the 
church, both by the admission of improper members, 
and by the malign influence of their own example : 
and thus the very name of Jesus may be brought into 
discredit, and the prevalence of the principles of in- 
fidelity be greatly accelerated. There can be no 
question that the improper conduct of professing 
Christians is the means of inflicting a deeper wound 
upon Christianity, than all the malice and opposition of 
the most powerful avowed enemies ; and that wound, 
it is as little to be doubted, will be much more deadly 
and severe, if the very hands which should be prompt 
to apply to it the healing balsam, lend their assistance 
to urge forward the weapon which inflicts it. How 
can the office-bearers of the church expect that, if they, 
who should be patterns to others, live in carelessness 
and folly, the ordinary professors of Christianity will 
be distinguished for piety, and a diligent and faithful 
discharge of iheir religious duties ? Is it not a fact that 
all who make a profession of religion, are strictly 
watched by the world ? Is it not a fact that those 
persons who take office in the church are made the 
objects of a scrutiny peculiarly close and searching ? 
Are not all their actions observed ? Is not their 
example appealed to hi every house? Is not their 
misconduct employed by the dissolute to encourage 
each other in their e\il courses? Yes, their sins are 


seeds peculiarly quick to grow, which, falling upon a 
soil entirely congenial to their nature, produce a most 
abundant harvest. While they themselves are quietly 
reposing upon their pillows at home, their example 
sleeps not with them. Their inconsistencies may be 
filling the bowl of madness, around which the mid- 
night revellers sit ; or they may be employed to give 
point to the argument with which the unbeliever assails 
Christianity. It is generally allowed that the low state 
to which religion was reduced in France, by the negli- 
gence and errors of the Popish establishment, was the 
main cause of that extensive and fatal triumph which 
infidelity enjoyed for so long a period in that kingdom ; 
and every corruption of Christianity, and every incon- 
sistency of its adherents, tends in a greater or less 
degree to produce the very same results. 

But, on the other hand, let the office-bearers of the 
church be sedulous and faithful in the discharge of their 
important duties, admitting members with caution, and 
counselling with unremitting watchfulness and affection 
those who are already in communion; and how salutary 
and enduring may the results of their labours be ! A 
high tone of moral feeling will be produced and sustained 
in the church : a holy emulation will be excited in 
the bosoms of the faithful : the self-denial and devotion 
of the office-bearers will transfuse themselves into the 
breasts of the members : heavenly sympathy will 
bind together the hearts of all ; and when at any 
time the rulers of the church may be driven to the 
dire necessity of exerting the full stretch of their 
authority, their hands will be strengthened by the 
countenance and approbation of those who are under 
their care : and even in cases of difficulty and doubt, 
where there may be room for misconstruction, the 
experience which the members have had of their 
former prudence and zeal, will inspire them with con- 
fidence in the wisdom and integrity of their present pro- 
ceedings. The elders indeed oifa Presbyterian church, 
occupy a peculiarly favourable position for exerting a 


salutary influence over the minds of their fellow- 
Christians, and form an admirable instrument for 
preserving the purity of the church, and administering 
its laws. Chosen by the communicants on account of 
their superior worth and attainments, they enjoy the 
confidence of those over whom they preside, and are 
regarded by them with that powerful sympathy which 
voluntary choice, unless the objects of it are guilty of 
egregious misconduct, never fails to inspire. 

Is it not, then apparent that elders are men in whose 
hands there is placed a moral instrument of powerful 
efficiency, and should they not therefore make it their 
daily endeavour to wield that instrument in such a 
manner, that it may be productive of good to the 
Church of Christ ? Should they not labour to cultivate 
personal religion, and to exhibit a walk and conversa- 
tion becoming the gospel, that others seeing their good 
works, may be stimulated to the cultivation of similar 
graces ? In vain will they reprove the backsliding, if 
their own piety be of a questionable kind. Should 
they not study to acquire an accurate and extensive 
knowledge of the sacred writings, that they may be 
able to instruct the ignorant, and to resolve the doubts 
of those who are involved in perplexity ? Should they 
not take a deep interest in the diffusion of Christian 
knowledge, and the enlargement of the Redeemer's 
kingdom, giving their countenance to every plan of 
usefulness, both that they themselves may be the 
honoured instruments of increasing the glory of the 
Redeemer's name, and that the energies of those who 
are committed to their care may be directed aright, and 
prevented from sinking into a state of listless inactivity? 
Should they not strive to act with prudence, and cir- 
cumspection in all the affairs which come vmder their 
consideration, ever looking with a single eye to the 
glory of their Master's name, that they may acquire a 
larger share of the confidence of the Christian people, 
and be enabled to exert over them the greater moral 
influence ? Should they not labour to avoid even the 


appearance of evil, living in all godliness and honesty, 
lest any actions of theirs, however innocent in them- 
selves, should, in consequence of unfavourable circum- 
stances, be converted by the wicked, who are ever prone 
to judge harshly of the conduct of professing Christians, 
into weapons of attack against the pure and holy reli- 
gion of Christ ? Should they not, in a w^ord, regard 
themselves as the guides of the people of God, stationed 
over them for the purpose of exciting them, both by 
precept and example, to the diligent and faithful dis- 
charge of their duties, and responsible therefore in a 
certain degree for their improvement, as well as for 
their own ? To them indeed, as well as to the preach- 
ing elders, may be applied most justly that striking 
passage in the book of Ezekiel iii. 17 : " Son of man, 
I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; 
therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them 
warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, thou 
shalt surely die ; and thou givest him not warning, nor 
speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to 
save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his 
iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. 
Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his 
wickedness nor from his wicked way, he shall die in 
his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." 

Such are the duties which the very nature of the 
case demonstrates to be binding upon those who have 
assumed the office of the eldership ; and such are the 
fatal, and such the salutary results which the careless 
or the dilio'ent discharge of these duties is calculated 
to produce. What ground then for serious reflection, 
and what motives to unsparing self-examination do 
these considerations suggest ! How fervent should be 
the prayers which the elder of the church presents to 
God, for strength to enable him to walk uprightly, and 
for grace to guard him from every course which might 
prove a stumbling-block to others ! Should not the 
duty which he owes to Christ, and to the members of 
the church be ever present to his mind ? The man 

XXI 11 

who knows that he is wielding a weapon which may 
prove fatal to the lives of others, should certainly give 
especial heed to his movements : and the servant of 
Jesus who knows that the gospel is a double-edged 
sword, with the one edge powerful to heal, but where 
its healing virtue is depised, powerful with the other 
to destroy, should use his utmost efforts to bring its 
salutary edge into contact with the consciences of men. 
It it an awful responsibility which rests upon the heads 
of those who undertake the spiritual oversight of the 
Church of Christ. Stewards of the mysteries of God, 
they are engaged in a task of the most momentous kind ; 
and their labours are productive of consequences which 
extend through the duration of eternity. Their 
employments have reference not to the fleeting interests 
of this world, but to the immortal destinies of the soul ; 
and when they neglect or abuse their spiritual func- 
tions, they are pursuing a course which may involve 
thousands in a ruin be3ond the reach of remedy. 
Theirs is not the negligence of the men who bring 
misery upon themselves alone. Theirs is the negli- 
gence of the guide, whose dying groans are mingled 
with the groans of the victims whom he has led astray. 
Like the general whose unskilfulness or folly has con- 
signed his men to the sword of the foe, their blood they 
commingle with the blood of others; and the stini^of 
their own death must carry the concentrated venom 
of a thousand dissolutions. 

W. L. 

14th November y 18G4. 

AN ESSAY, &c. 



Our once crucified, but now exalted Redeemer, has 
erected in this world a kingdom which is his church. 
This church is either visible or invisible. 

By the invisible church, we mean the whole body 
of sincere believers, of every age and nation, " that 
have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under 
Christ, the glorious Head thereof." Part of these 
are already made perfect in heaven. Another portion 
are at present scattered over the earth in different 
denominations of professing Christians, though not 
certainly distinguishable from others by the human 
eye. And the remainder are in future to be gathered 
in by the grace of God ; — when the whole number of 
the " redeemed from among men," will be united in 
one holy assembly, which is the " spouse," the " body 
of Christ, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." 

By the visible church is meant the bod}' of those 
who profess the true religion, together with their 
children. It is that body which is called out of the 
world, and united under the authority of Christ, the 
Head, for the purpose of maintaining Gospel Truth 
and Order, and promoting the knowledge, purity, 
comfort, and edification of all the members. When 


we use the term churchy as expressive of a visible, 
professing body, we either mean the whole visible 
church of God throughout the world, or a particular 
congregation of professing Christians, who have agreed 
to unite together for the purpose of mutual instruction, 
inspection, and edification.* 

The word church is also employed in Scripture to 
designate a church judicatory; that is, the church 
assembled and acting by her representatives, the 
elders, chosen to inspect, and bear rule over the whole 
body. This, it is believed, will be evident to those 
who impartially consult Matthew xviii. 15 — 18; and 
compare the language of the original here, with that 
of the original, and the Greek translation of the 
Seventy, of Deuteronomy xxxi. 28 — 30. 

The visible church is a spiritual body. That is, it 
is not secular or worldly, either in its nature or objects. 
The kingdom of Christ " is not of this world." Its 
Head, laws, ordinances, discipline, penalties, and end, 
are all spiritual. There can be no departure from 
this principle; in other words, there can be no con- 
nection between the Church and the State; no > en- 
forcement of ecclesiastical laws by the power of the 

* It has been asserted by some, that the term Church not 
only means, strictly, a religious assembly — a body of professing^ 
people; but that it cannot be applied, with propriety, to any 
thino^ else; and that it is altog-ether improper to apply it, as is 
often done, to the building- in which the assembly is wont to 
convene for worship. This is, undoubtedly, a groundless scruple. 
Under the Old Testament economy, it is plain that the Avord 
synagogue was indiscriminately applied both to the public 
assembly, and to the edifice in which they worshipped. Besides, 
the word Church is evidently derived from the Greek words, 
y.v(itov otKo?, " the house of the Lord;" and therefore, may be con- 
sidered as pointing- quite as distinctly to the edifice as to the 
worshippers. Nay, it is hig-hly probable that the w^ord in its 
original use, had a primary reference to the house rather than 
to the assembly. And even if it were not so, still the under- 
standingf and use of the word in this double sense, if once ag^reed 
upon, cannot be considered as liable, so far as is perceived, to 
any particular objection or abuse. 

secular arm, or by " carnal weapons," without depart- 
ing from " the simplicity that is in Christ," and 
invading both the purity and safety of his sacred body. 

This great visible church is one, in all ages, and 
throughout the world. From its first formation in 
the family of Adam, through all the changes of the 
Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations, it 
has been one and the same ; having the same divine 
Head, the same ground of hope, the same essential 
characters, and the same great design. Diversity of 
denomination does not destroy this unitv% All who 
profess the true religion, together with their offspring, 
however divided by place, by names, or by forms, are 
to be considered as equally belonging to that great 
family denominated the church. The Presbyterian, 
the Episcopalian, the Methodist, the Baptist, and the 
Independent, who hold the fundamentals of our holy 
religion, in whatever part of the globe they may reside, 
are all equally members of the same visible community; 
and, if they be sincere, will all finally be made partakers 
of its eternal blessings. They cannot, indeed, all 
worship together in the same solemn assembly, even 
if they were disposed to do so : — and the sin and folly 
o men have separated into different bodies those who 
ought to " walk together." Still the visible church is 
one. All who " hold the Head," of course, belong to 
the body of Christ. " We, being many," says the 
inspired apostle, " are one body in Christ, and every 
one members one of another." Those who are united 
by a sound profession to the same Almighty Head ; 
who embrace the same " precious faith ; " who are 
sanctified by the same Spirit; who eat the same 
spiritual meat, who drink the same spiritual drink; 
who repose and rejoice in the same promises ; and who 
are travelling to the same eternal rest, are surely one 
BODY, — in a sense more richly significant than can be 
ascribed to millions who sustain a mere nominal unity. 

This unity is very distinctly recognized, and very 
happily expressed by Cyprian, a distinguished Chris- 

tian father of the third century. " The church," says 
he, " is one, which, by its fruitful increase, is enlarged 
into a multitude. As the rays of the sun, though 
many, are yet one luminary; as the branches of a 
tree, though numerous, are all established on one 
firmly rooted trunk; and as inany streams springing 
from the same fountain, though apparently dispersed 
abroad by their overflowing abundance, yet have their 
unity preserved by one common origin; — so the church, 
though it extends its rays throughout the world, is 
one light. Though every where diffused, its unity 
is not broken. By the abundance of its increase, it 
extends its branches through the whole earth. It 
spreads far and wide its flowing streams; yet it has 
one Head, one Fountain, one Parent, and is enriched 
and enlarged by the issues of its own fruitfulness."* 

It is ever also to be borne in mind that the church 
is not a mere voluntary association, with which men 
are at liberty to connect themselves or not, as they 
please. For, although the service which God requires 
of us is throughout a voluntary one : although no one 
can properly come into the church but as a matter of 
voluntary choice : although the idea of either secular 
or ecclesiastical compulsion is, here, at once un- 
reasonable and contrary to Sciipture : yet as the church 
is Christ's institution, and not men's ; and as the same 
divine authority which requires us to repent of sin, 
and believe in Christ, also requires us to " confess him 
before men," and to join ourselves to his professing 
people ; it is evident that no one is at liberty, in the 
sight of God, to neglect uniting himself with the 
church. Man cannot, and ought not, to compel him; 
but if he refuse to fulfil this duty, when it is in his 
power, he rejects the authority of God. He, of course, 
refuses at his peril. 

Of this body, Christ alone, as before intimated, is 
the Head. He only has a right to give laws to his 

* De Unitate Ecclesice. Sect. iv. 

church, or to institute rites and ordinances for her 
observance. His will is the supreme guide of his pro- 
fessing people ; his word their code of laws ; and his 
glory their ultimate end. The authority of church 
officers is not orimnal, but subordinate and deles^ated : 
that is, as they are his servants, and act under his 
commission, and in his name, they have power only to 
declare what the Scriptures reveal as his will, and to 
pronounce sentence accordingly. If they attempt to 
establish any other terms of communion than those 
which his word warrants; or to undertake to exer- 
cise authority in a manner which he has not authorised, 
they incur guilt, and have no right to exact obedience. 

In this sacred community, government is absolutely 
necessary. Even in the perfect holy and harmonious 
society of heaven, there is government ; that is, there 
is law and authority, under which the whole celestial 
family is united in perfect love, and unmingled enjoy- 
ment. Much more important and indispensable is 
government among fallen depraved men, among whom 
" it is impossible but that offences will come," and to 
whom the discipline of scriptural and pure ecclesiastical 
rule, is one of the most precious means of grace. To 
think of maintaining any society, ecclesiastical or civil, 
without government, in this depraved world, would be 
to contradict every principle of reason and experience, 
as well as of Scripture: and to think of supporting 
government without officers, to whom its functions 
may be intrusted, would be to embrace the absurd hope 
of obtaining an end without the requisite means. 

The question. Whether any particular form of church 
government is so laid down in Scripture, as that the 
claim of divine right may be advanced on its behalf, 
and that, of consequence, the church is bound, in all 
ages, to adopt and act upon it; — will not now be 
formally discussed. It has been made the subject of 
too much extended and ardent controversy, to be 
brought within the compass of a few sentences, or even 
a few pages. It may not be improper, however, briefly 
A 2 

to say, that it would, indeed, have been singular, if a 
community, called out of the world, and organized 
under the peculiar authority of the all-wise Redeemer, 
had been left entirely without any direction as to 
its government: — That the Scriptures, undoubtedly, 
exhibit to us a form of ecclesiastical organization and 
rule, which was, in fact, instituted by the apostles, 
under the direction of infinite wisdom : — That this 
form was evidentlj^ taken, with very little alteration, 
from the preceding economy, thus giving additional 
presumption in its favour: — That we find the same 
plan closely copied by the churches for a considerable 
time after the apostolic age : — That it continued to be 
in substance the chosen and universal fonii of govern- 
ment in the church, until corruption, both in doctrine 
and practice, had, through the ambition and de- 
generacy of ecclesiastics, gained a melancholy preva- 
lence: — And, that the same form was also substantially 
maintained by the most faithful witnesses for the truth, 
during the dark ages, — until the great body of the 
Reformers took it from their hands, and established it 
in their respective ecclesiastical connections. 

These premises would appear abundantly to warrant 
the conclusion, that the form of Government which 
answers this description, is the wisest and best ; that 
it is adapted to all ages and states of society ; and that 
it is agreeable to the will of Christ that it be universally 
received in his church. All this the writer of the 
following Essay fully believes may be established in 
favour of Presbyterianism. There seems no reason, 
however, to believe, with some zealous votaries of the 
hierarchy, that any particular form of goverment is in 
so rigorous a sense of divine right, as to be essential 
to the existence of the church ; so that where this form 
is wanting, there can be no church. To adopt this 
opinion, is to take a very narrow and unscriptural view 
of the covenant of grace. After yielding to the visible 
church and its ordinances, all the importance which the 
word of God warrants, still it cannot be doubted, that 

on the one hand, men in regular external membership 
with the purest church on earth, may be hypocrites, 
and perish; and on the other, that all who cordially 
repent of sin, and receive the Saviour in spirit and in 
truth, will assuredly obtain eternal life, although they 
never enjoyed the privilege of a connection with any 
portion of the visible church on earth. The tenor of 
the Gospel covenant is, ?' He that believeth on the Son 
of God hath eternal life, and shall not come into 
condemnation, but is passed from death unto life; 
but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, 
but the wrath of God abideth on him." 

Still it is plain, from the word of God, as well as from 
uniibrm experience, that the government of the church 
is a matter of great importance ; that the form as well as 
the administration of that government is more vitally 
connected with the peace, purity and edification of the 
chuj'ch, than many Christians appear to believe ; and, 
of consequence, that it is no small part of fidelity to 
our Master in heaven to " hold fast " the form of 
ecclesiastical order, as well as the " form of sound 
words" which He has delivered to the saints. 

The existence of ecclesiastical Rulers, presupposes 
the existence and exercise of ecclesiastical power. A 
iew remarks on the nature, source and limits of this 
])ower;may not be irrelevant asa part of this preliminary 

When we speak of ecclesiastical power, then, we 
speak of that which, much as it is misunderstood, and 
deplorably as it has been perverted and abused, is plainly 
warranted, both by reason and Scripture. In fact, it is 
a prerogative which common sense assigns and secures 
to all organized society, from a family to a nation. The 
doctrine attempted to be maintained by the celebrated 
Erastus, in his work, "De Excommunicatione," viz: 
that the exercise of all church power, however modified, 
-is to be rejected, as forming an imperium in imperio, 
is one of the most weak and untenable of all positions. 
The same argument would preclude all authority or 

government subordinate to that of the State, whether 
domestic, academical, or financial. The truth is, there 
not only may he, but there actually are thousands 
of imperia in imperio, in every civil community in 
the world; and all this without the least danger or 
inconvenience, as long as the smaller or subordinate 
governments maintain their proper place, and do not 
claim, or attempt to exercise, powers, which come in 
collision with those of the State. 

Now the power exercised by the church is of this 
character. Christ is the Sovereign. His kingdom is 
spiritual. It interferes not with civil government. It 
may exist and flourish under any form of political 
administration ; and alwaj^s fares best when entirely left 
to itself, without the interference of the civil magistrate. 
Accordingly, it is notorious, that the power of which 
we speak, was exercised by the church in the days 
of the Apostles, and during the first three centuries of 
the Christian era, not only without any aid from the 
secular arm, but while all the civil governments of the 
world were firmly leagued against her, and following 
her with the bitterest persecution. But the moment 
the church became allied with the State, that moment 
the influence of each on the other became manifestly 
mischievous. The State enriched, pampered, and 
corrupted the church ; and the church, in her turn, 
gradually extended her power over the State, until she 
claimed, and in some instances gained, a haughty 
supremacy over all rulers and governments. This is 
an ecclesiastical power which the Bible no where 
recognizes or allows. It is the essence of spiritual 
usurpation : and can never have a place but where 
the essential character of the religion of Jesus Christ 
is misapprehended or forgotten. This abominable 
tyranny, so long and so wdckedly maintained in the 
name of the meek and lowly Saviour, who, instead of 
countenancing, always condemned it; — has prejudiced 
the minds of many against ecclesiastical power in any 
form. On account of this prej udice it is j udged proper 

to state, with some degree of distinctness, what we 
mean when we speak of the church of Christ as being 
invested with powder for the benefit of her members, 
and for the glory of her ahiiighty Head. 

It is evident that even if the chmxh were a mere 
voluntary association, which neither possessed nor 
claimed any divine w^arrant, it would have the same 
powers which are universally conceded to all other 
voluntary associations ; that is, the power of forming 
its own rules, of judging of the qualifications of its 
own members, and of admitting or excluding, as the 
essential principles and interests of the body might 
require; and all this as long as neither the rules 
themselves, nor the execution of them, infringed the 
laws of the State, or violated any public or private 
rights. When a literar}^, philosophical, or agricultural 
society claims and exercises powers of this kind, all 
reflecting people consider it as both reasonable and 
safe; and would no more think of denying the right 
to do so, than they would think of denying that the 
father of a family had a right to govern his own 
household, as long as he neither transgressed any law 
of the State, nor invaded the peace of his neighbours. 

But the Christian church is by no means to be con- 
sidered as a mere voluntary association. It is a body 
called out of the world, created by divine institution, 
and created, as its members believe, for the express 
purpose of bearing testimony for Christ, in the midst 
of a revolted and rebellious world, and maintaining in 
their purity the truth and ordinances which He has 
appointed. The members of this body, therefore, by 
the act of uniting themselves with it, profess to believe 
certain doctrines, to be under obligation to perform 
certain duties, and to be bound to possess a certain 
character. Of course, the very purpose for which, and 
the very terms on which the Master has formed this 
body, and bound its members together, necessarily 
imply, not only the right, but the duty, of refusing to 
admit those who are manifestly hostile to the essential 


principles of its institution, and of casting out those who, 
after their admission, as manifestly depart from those 
principles. To suppose less than this, would be to 
suppose that a God of infinite wisdom has withheld 
from a body, formed for a certain purpose, that which 
is absolutely necessary for its defence against intrusion, 
insult, and perversion; in other words, for its own 

Hence the Apostle Paul, after the New Testament 
church was erected, speaks (1 Cor. xii. 28.) of " go- 
vernments," as w^ell as " teachers " being "set in it" by 
the authority of God. He expressly claims, (2 Cor. x. 
8,) an "authority" which God had given to his servants 
as rulers in the Church, " for edification, and not for 
destruction." And he exemplifies this authority by 
representing it as properly exercised in casting out of 
the church any one who was immoral or profane; 
( 1 Cor. v.). Hence the officers of the church are spoken 
of as "guides" {r^yov^ivot), "overseers" or "bishops" 
{iTria-KOTTOi), and " rulers" ['^r^oia-rojTi?): — and it is declared . 
to be their duty, not only to instruct, warn, and entreat;*^ 
but also to " rebuke," or authoritatively to admonish 
and censure. They were commanded by the authority 
of the Head of the Church (1 Cor. v. Tit. iii. 10.) to 
" reject," to " put away from them," after using proper 
admonition, those who were grossly heretical or im- 
moral. In short, in that period of gospel simplicity 
and purity, the church claimed no authority over any 
but her own members; and even over them, no other 
authority than that which related to their character, 
duties, and interests as members, and was deemed 
essential to her own well-being. 

And as this power of the church is not self-created 
or self-assumed, but derived from her gracious and 
almighty Head ; and as it is, and can, of right only 
be exercised over her own members, so it is merely 
spiritual in its nature; in other words, it claims no 
right whatever to inflict temporal pains or "penalties. 
It cannot touch the persons or property of those to 


whom it is directed. It addresses itself only to their 
judgments and consciences. It includes only a right to 
instruct, warn, rebuke, censure, and cast out; that is, to 
exclude from the privileges of the body. This last 
step is the utmost length to which it can go. When 
the church has excluded from her pale those toward 
whom this power is directed ; in other words, when 
she has declared them out of her communion or 
fellowship, she has done every thing to which her 
power extends. All beyond this is usurpation and 
oppression. The great end of church government, is 
not to employ physical force, but moral weapons only. 
It can never invade the right of private judgment. It 
can never exert its power over any but those who volun- 
tarily submit to it. And it prescribes no sanctions but 
those which have for their object the moral benefit of the 
body itself, and also of the individuals to whom they 
are awarded. The gospel knows nothing of delivering 
men over to the secular arm, to be punished for offences 
against the church. The church might, therefore, 
exert her whole power, in its plenary extent, though 
all the governments of the world were arrayed against 
her in the bitterest hostility, as they have once been, 
and as they may again be found. 

And, as all the power of the church is derived, not 
from the civil government, but from Christ, the 
almighty King of Zion ; and as it is purely spiritual 
in its nature and sanctions; so the power of church 
officers is merely ministerial. They are, stricdy, 
servants, who are to be governed in all things by the 
pleasure of their employer. They have only authority 
to announce what the Master has said, and to decide 
agreeably to that will which he has made known in 
his word. Like ambassadors at a foreign court, they 
cannot go one jot or tittle beyond their instructions. 
Of course, they have no right to set up a law of their 
own. The Bible is the great statute book of the body 
of which we speak ; the only infallible rule of faith and 
practice. And nothing can be rightfully inculcated 


on the members of the church as truth, or demanded 
of them as duty, but that which is found in that great 
charter of the privileges as well as the obligations of 

To complete the view of that ecclesiastical power 
which we consider as implied in church government, 
it is only necessary to add, that it is given solely for the 
benefit of the church, and not for the aggrandizement 
of church officers. Tyrants in civil government have 
taught, and acted upon the principle, that the great 
end of all political establishments is the exaltation of 
a few at the expense of the many. And it is deeply 
to be deplored that the same principle has been too 
often apparently adopted by bodies calling themselves 
churches of Christ. Nothing can be more opposite 
than this, to the spirit and law of the Redeemer. 
The " authority " which the apostle claims as existing, 
and to be exercised in the church, he represents (2 
Cor. X. 8.) as given " for edification, and not for 
destruction." Not for the purpose of creating and 
pampering classes of " privileged orders," to " lord it 
over God's heritage;" not to build up a system of 
polity, which may minister to the pride or the cupidity 
of an ambitious priesthood ; not to form a body, under 
the title of clerg}^, with separate interests from the 
laity of the church. All this is as wicked at it is un- 
reasonable. No office, no power is appointed by 
Jesus Christ in his church, but that which is necessary 
to the instruction, the purity, and the happiness of the 
w^iole body. All legitimate government here, as well 
as elsewhere, is to be considered as a means, not an 
end ; and as no further resting on divine authority, than 
we can say in support of all its claims and acts, " thus 
saith the Lord ; " than it is adapted to build up the 
great family of those who profess the true religion, in 
knowledge, peace, and holiness unto salvation. 

The summary of the doctrine of Presbyterians, then, 
concerning ecclesiastical power, may be considered as 
comprehended in the following propositions: — 


1. That the Lord Jesus Christ is the only King 
and Head of the church, the fountain of all power ; 
and that no man or set of men, have any right to con- 
sider themselves as holding the place of his vicar, or 

2. That the Bible contains the code of laws which 
Christ has enacted, and given for the government of 
his church ; and that it is the only infallible rule of 
faith and practice. 

3. That his kingdom is not of this world ; and of 
course, that the church can take no cognizance of any 
other concerns than those which relate to the spiritual 
interests of men. 

4. That the power of church officers is not original, 
or inherent, but altogether derived and ministerial. 
They have no other authority than, as his servants, 
and in his name, to proclaim the truth which he has 
declared, and to urge to the performance of those duties 
which he has commanded. 

5. That nothing can be lawfully required of any 
one as a member of the church, excepting what is ex- 
pressly taught in scripture ; or by good and necessary 
consequence to be inferred from what is expressly 
taught there. 

6. That the church being instituted by Christ for 
the chief purpose of maintaining in their purity the 
doctrines and ordinances of Christ, is authorized and 
bound by Him to refuse admission to her fellowship 
those who are known to be hostile to this purpose, and 
to exclude such as are found to offend against this 
purpose after admission. 

7. That the discipline and penalties of the church 
are wholly of a moral kind, consisting of admonition, 
entreaty, warning, suspension, and excommunication ; 
and that exclusion from the fellowship of the body, is 
the highest penalty that can be inflicted on any delin- 

8. That the apostolic church, though under the 
bitterest persecution, was instructed by the inspired 


apostles, to excercise the power mentioned, and did 
actually exercise the same ; and is to be considered as 
therein exemplifying and teaching the principles which 
ought to regulate the church in all ages. 

9. That the church can excercise no authority over 
any others than her own members. 

1 0. That none can be compelled to be members, or 
to submit to her authority any longer than they choose 
to do so. 

11. That the authority of the church cannot be 
lawfully exercised for any other purpose than to pro- 
mote the purity, order, and edification of the whole 
body; and that, of course, any exertion of church 
power, which has for its object the aggrandizement of 
ecclesiastics at the expense of the body of the church, 
is an unscriptural abuse. And, 

12. Finally, that all civil establishments of religion, 
in any form, or under any denomination, are wrong; 
contrary to the spirit of Christianity; injurious to the 
best interests of the church ; and really more to be 
deprecated by the enlightened friends of piety, than 
the most sanguinary persecution that can be inflicted 
by the arm of power. 

In every church completely organized, that is, fur- 
nished with all the officers which Christ has instituted, 
and which are necessary for carrying into full effect 
the lav/s of his kingdom, there ought to be three classes 
of officers, viz. at least one teaching elder, bishop, 
or pastor — a bench of ruling elders — and deacons. 
The first to " minister in the word and doctrine," and 
to dispense the sacraments ; the second to assist in the 
inspection and government of the church; and the 
third to " serve tables;" that is, to take care of the 
church's funds destined for the support of the poor, 
and sometimes to manage whatever relates to the tem- 
poral support of the gospel and its ministers. 

The following essay will be devoted to the consid- 
eration of the second class of these officers, namely, 


Ruling Elders ; and the points which it is proposed 
more particularly to discuss, are the following: — The 
church's warrant for this class of officers ; — The 
nature, design, and duties of the office itself; — The 
qualifications proper for those w ho bear it ; — The dis- 
tinction between this office, and that of deacons ; by 
whom ruling elders ought to be elected; in what 
manner they should be ordained; the principles which 
ought to regulate their withdrawing or being deposed 
from office, removing from one church to another, &c.; 
and, finally, the advantages attending this form of 
government in the church. 

The question, whether the church has any warrant 
for this class of officers, will have different degrees of 
importance attached to it by different persons. Those 
who believe that no form of church government what- 
ever can justly claim to be, in ahy sense, of divine 
right, will, of course, consider this inquiry as of small 
moment. If the church be at perfect liberty, at all 
times, to adopt what form of government she pleases, 
and to modify, or entirely to change the same at plea- 
sure ; then no other warrant than her own convenience 
or will ought to be required. But if the writer of the 
following pages be correct in believing that there is a 
form of government for the family of God laid down 
in scripture, to w4iich it is the duty of the church, in 
all ages, to conform ; then the inquiry which it is the 
purpose of several of the succeeding chapters to pur- 
sue, is plainly important, and demands our serious at- 

It is believed, then, that the following positions, in 
reference to the office now under consideration maybe 
firmly maintained, viz. that under the Old Testament 
economy in general, and especially in the synagogue 
service, elders were invariably appointed to exercise 
authority and bear rule in ecclesiastical society ; that 
similar elders, after the model of the synagogue, were 
appointed in the primitive church, under the direction 
of inspired apostles ; that we find in the writings of 


some of the early fathers, evident traces of the same 
office as existing in their times ; that the Waldenses, 
and other pious witnesses for the truth, during the dark 
ages, retained this class of officers in the church, as a 
divine institution ; that the reformers, with very few 
exceptions, when they separated from the corruptions 
of popery, restored this office to the church ; that a 
number of distinguished divines and churches, not 
otherwise presbyterian, wlio have flourished since the 
reformation, have remarkably concurred in declaring 
for the same office ; and, finally, that ruling elders, or 
officers of a similar kind, are indispensably necessary 
in every well ordered congregation. Each of these 
topics of argument is entitled to separate consideration. 



It is impossible fully to understand either the spirit, 
the facts, or the nomenclature of the New Testament, 
without going back to the Old. The Christian religion 
is founded upon that of the Jews; or rather is the 
completion of it. The latter was the infancy and 
adolescence of that body of which the former is the 
manhood. And it is remarkable, that no class of 
theologians more strenuously contend for the connec- 
tion between the Jewish and Christian economies, and 
the impracticability of taking intelligent views of the 
one, without some previous knowledge of the other, 
than most of those who deny the apostolic origin of 
the class of officers now under consideration. With 
all such persons, then, we join issue. And, as a very 
large part of the titles and functions of ecclesiastical 
officers, were, evidently, transmitted from the cere- 
monial to the spiritual economy, it is indispensably 
necessary, in order fully to understand their character, 
to go back to their source. 

The term Eldei\ corresponding with %p^, in Heb- 
rew, and 5rgg5-/3yT«go? in Greek, literally signifies an aged 
])erson. Among the Jews, and the eastern nations 
generally, persons advanced in life were commonly 
selected to fill stations of dignity and authority, be- 
cause they were supposed to possess most wisdom, 
gravity, prudence, and experience. From this circum- 
stance, the term Elder^ became, in process of time, 


and by a natural association of ideas, an established 
title of office.* Accordingly, the Jews gave this title 
to most of their offices, civil as well as ecclesiastical, 
long before synagogues were established. From the 
time of Moses, they had elders over the nation, as 
well as over every city and smaller community. These 
are repeatedly represented as inspectors and rulers of 
the people; as "officers set over them;" and, indeed, 
throughout their history, there is every reason to beheve 
that the body of the people never, themselves, exer- 
cised governmental acts; but chose their elders, to 
whom all the details of judicial and executive authority, 
under their divine Legislator and Sovereign, were 
constantly committed. 

The following specimen of the representation given 
on this subject, in various parts of the Old Testament, 
will suffice, at once, to illustrate and establish what is 
here advanced. Even while the children of Israel 
were in Egypt, they seem to have had elders, in the 
official sense of the w^ord; for Jehovah, in sending 
Moses to deliver them, said, " Go, and gather the 
elders of Israel together, and say unto them, the Lord 
hath visited you, and hath seen what is done to you 
in Egypt;" (Exodus iii. 16.) In the wilderness, the 
elders of Israel are spoken of as called together by 
Moses, appealed to by Moses, and officially acting 
under that divinely commissioned leader, on occasions 
almost innumerable. These elders appear to have 

* It has been often remarked, that the ancient official use of 
this word, as implying wisdom and experience, is still preserved 
in many modern languag-es, in which Seigneur, Signior, Senator, 
and other similar words, are used to express both dignity and 
authority. It is evident that all these words, and some others 
which might be mentioned, are derivatives from the Latin word, 
senior. It is no less plain, that the title of the magistrates of 
cities and boroughs, who are called aldermen or eldermen, is 
from the same origin with our modern term elder. Many of 
the titles of respect, both in the eastern and western world, 
were it proper to take time for- the purpose, might be traced, 
beyond all doubt, to a similar source. 


been of different grades, and endowed, of course, with 
different powers; (Exod. xvii. 5; xviii. 12; xxiv. 1, 9. 
Numbers xi. 16. Deut. xxv. T — 9; xxix. 10; xxxi. 
9, 28.) From these and other passages, it would 
seem, they had seventy elders over the nation ; and 
besides these, elders over thousands, over hundreds, 
over fifties, and over tens, who were all charged with 
inspection and rule in their respective spheres. Again, 
we find, inspectors and rulers of the people, under the 
name of elders, existing, and on all public occasions, 
acting in their official character, in the time of Joshua ; 
during the period of the judges; under the kings, 
especially during the most favoured and happy season 
of their kingly dominion, probably during the captivity 
in Babylon ; and, beyond all doubt, as soon as they 
returned from captivity, and became settled in their 
ow^n land ; until the synagogue system was regularly 
established as the stated means of popular instruction 
and worship. 

When the synagogue service was instituted, is a 
question which has been so much controverted, and is 
of so much real uncertainty, that the discussion of it 
will not be attempted in this place, especially as it is 
a question of no sort of importance in the inquiry 
now before us. All that it is necessary for us to 
assume is, that it existed at the time of our Lord's 
advent, and for a considerable time before, and that 
the Jews had been long accustomed to its order and 
worship, which no one, it is presumed, will think of 
questioning. Now, whatever might have been its origin, 
nothing can be more certain, than that, from the 
earliest notices we have of the institution, and through 
its Avhole history, its leading officers consisted of a 
bench of elders, who were appointed to bear rule in 
the congregation ; who formed a kind of consistory, 
or ecclesiastical judicatory ; — to receive applicants for 
admission into the church ; to watch over the people, 
as well in reference to their morals, as their obedience 
to ceremonial and ecclesiastical order; to administer 


discipline when necessary; and, in short, as the re- 
presentatives of the church or congregation, to act in 
their name and behalf; to " bind " and " loose," and 
to see that every thing was " done decently and in 

It is not forgotten that a few eminent wi'iters, follow- 
ing the celebrated German errorist, Erastus, have 
contended that there was no ecclesiastical government 
among the Jews distinct from the civil ; and that, of 
course, there were no rulers of the synagogue, separate 
from the civil judges. Those who wish to see this 
error satisfactorily refuted, and the existence of a 
distinct ecclesiastical government among that people 
clearly established, may consult what has been written 
on the subject, by the learned Gillespie,* by Professor 
Rutherford, f by Bishop Stilhngfleet, { and others; 
from whose writings they will be convinced, beyond 
all reasonable doubt, that the civil and ecclesiastical 
judicatories were really distinct; that the persons 
composing each, as well as their respective spheres 
of judgment were peculiar ; and that the latter existed 
long after the civil sovereignty of the Jewish people 
was taken away. 

There has been, indeed, much diversity of opinion 
among learned men, concerning a variety of questions 
which arise in reference to these elders of the syna- 
gogue. As, for example, whether there was a differ- 
ence of rank among them? Whether some were 
teachers as well as rulers, and others rulers only? 
Whether there was any diversity in their ordination, 
&c. &c.? But while eminent writers on Jewish an- 
tiquities have differed, and continue to differ, in relation 
to these points, they are all perfectly agreed in one 
point, namely, that in every synagogue there was a 
bench of elders, consisting of at least tlii'ee persons, who 

* Aaron's Rod, &c.: Lond. 4to. 1646. 

f Divine Right of Church Government, &c.: Lond. 4to. 1646. 

t Irenicum. Part 2, chapter 6. 


were charged with the whole inspection, government, 
and discipline of the synagogue, who, as a court or 
bench of rulers, received, judged, censured, excluded, 
and, in a word, performed every judicial act, necessary 
to the regularity and welfare of the congregation. In 
this general fact, Vitringa, Selden, Voetius, Marck, 
Grotius, Lightfoot, Blondel, Salmasius, and, indeed, 
so far as I can now recollect, all the writers on this 
subject, who deserve to be represented as high authori- 
ties, substantially agree. And in support of this fact, 
they quote Philo, Josephus, Maimonides, Benjamin 
of Tudela, and the great mass of other Jewish wit- 
nesses, who are considered as holding the first rank 
among Rabbinical authorities. Indeed, they speak of 
the fact as too unquestionable to demand any formal 
array of testimony for its confirmation.* 

Accordingly, we find various passages in the New 
Testament history, which refer to these ruling elders, 
as belonging to the old economy, then drawing to a 
close, and which admit, it would appear, of no other 
interpretation than that which supposes their existence. 
The following specimen will suffice; Mark, v. 22, 
" And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the 
synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, 
he fell at his feet;" Acts xiii. 15, " And after the 
reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the 
synagogue sent unto them, saying, ye men and 
brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the 
people, say on." On this latter passage. Dr. Gill, an 
eminent master of oriental, and especially of rabbinical 
learning, in his Commentary, writes thus : — " * The 
rulers of the synagogue sent unto them ; ' that is, those 
who were the principal men in the synagogue; the 

* When the unanimous agreement of these learned writers is 
asserted, it is not meant to be alledged that they all entertain the 
same views of the elders of the synagogue, as to all particu- 
lars ; but simply that they r.ll unite in maintaining that there 
was, in every synagogue, such a bench of elders, who conducted 
its discipline, and managed its affairs. 


ruler of it, together with the elders ; for there was but 
one ruler in a synagogue, though there were more 
elders ; and so the Syriac version here renders it, ' the 
elders of the synagogue.' " By this language, as I 
understand the Doctor, he does not mean to intimate 
that the other elders of whom he here speaks did not 
bear rule in the synagogue ; but there was only one, 
who, by way of eminence, was called, " the ruler of 
the synagogue ; " that is, who presided at their meetings 
for official business. It is plain, however, that, even 
in this assertion, he is in some degree in error ; for 
more than once we find a plurality of persons in single 
synagogues spoken of as " rulers.'* 

The learned Vitringa, who, undoubtedly, is entitled 
to a very high place in the list of authorities on this 
subject, is of the opinion, that all who occupied a place 
with the bench of Elders in the Synagogue, were of one 
and the same rank or order ; that they all received one 
and the same ordination ; and were, of course, equally 
authorised to preach, when duty or inclination called 
them to this part of the public service, as well as to rule. 
And in this opinion he is joined by some others, w^hose 
judgment is worthy of the highest respect. But, at the 
same time, this eminent man freely grants, that a 
majority of the Elders of the Synagogue were not, in 
fact, ordinarily employed in teaching or preaching; 
that this part of the public service was principally under 
the direction of the chief ruler, or Head of each 
synagogue, who attended to it himself, or called on one 
of the other elders, or even any other learned doctor 
who might be present, and who was deemed capable 
of addressing the people in an instructive and acceptable 
manner ; and that the chief business of the mass of the 
elders was to rule.* The correctness of this opinion 
has been questioned. A number of other writers, quite 
his equals, both in talents and learning, and especially 
quite as conversant with Jewish authorities, have main- 

* De Synagoga Vetere. Lib. iii. par. i. cap. 7. 


tained, that a majority of the elders in the synagogue, 
were neither chosen nor set apart to the function of 
teaching, but to that of ruhng only. But, in the want 
of absolute certainty which exists on this subject, and 
for the sake of argument, I am willing to acquiesce in 
Vitringa's opinion. Suppose it to have been as he 
alleges : this is quite sufficient for our purpose. If it 
be conceded, that there was in every synagogue, a 
bench of elders, who, as a judicial body, were entrusted 
with the whole government and discipline of the con- 
gregation : — that a majority of these elders seldom or 
never preached, but were, in fact (whatever right they 
might have had) chiefly occupied as ecclesiastical rulers; 
and that all ecclesiastical matters, instead of being dis- 
cussed and decided by the congregation at large, were 
constantly committed to the judicial deliberation and 
decision of this eldership. If these things be granted — 
and they are granted, in substance, by every writer, 
entitled to be referred to as an authority, with whom I 
am acquainted — it is all that can be considered as 
material to the purpose of our argument. This will 
appear more fully in the sequel. 

These officers of the Synagogue were called by 
different names, as we learn from the New Testament, 
and from the most respectable Jewish authorities. The 
most common and fluniliar name, perhaps, was that of 
elders, as before stated at large. They were also 
called rulers of the synagogue, — a title of frequent 
occurrence in the New Testament, as applied to the 
whole bench of the elders in question ; but which would 
seem, from some passages, to have been, at least, some- 
times applied, by way of eminence, to the principal 
ruler in each synagogue, which principal ruler appears, 
however, to have been of the same general rank, or 
order, with the rest, and to have had no other precedence 
than that which consisted in presiding and taking 
the lead in the public service. These officers were, 
further called heads of the synagogue; overseers, 
or bishops ; presidents ; orderers, or regulators, of the 


affairs of the synagogue; guides, &c. &c. These 
titles are given at length by Vitringa, * Selden, f 
and others, with the original vouchers and exemplifica- 
tions of each ; showing that they all imply bearing rule, 
as well as the enjoyment of pre-eminence and dignity. 
And, as these elders were distinguished from the 
common members of the synagogue by appropriate 
titles, indicating official honour and power : so they had 
also distinct and honourable seats assigned them, when 
the congregation over which they ruled w^as convened. 
The place of sitting usually appropriated to them, was 
a semi-circular bench, in the middle of which the chief 
ruler was placed, and his colleagues on each side of 
him, with their faces toward the assembly, and in a 
certain position with respect to the ark, the principal 
door, and the cardinal points of the compass. This 
statement is confirmed by the learned Thorndike, a 
distinguished episcopal divine, of the 17th century. 
In speaking of the consistory, or bench of elders, in 
the synagogue, and describing their manner of sitting 
in public worship, he makes the following statement, in 
the form of a quotation from Maimon ides, and confirms 
it abundantly from other sources. " How sit the people 
in the synagogue ? The elders sit with their faces 
towards the people, and their backs towards the Recall 
(the place where they lay the copy of the law ;) and all 
the people sit rank before rank, the face of every rank 
towards the back of the rank before it ; so the faces of 
all the people are towards the sanctuary, and towards the 
elders, and towards the ark : and when the minister 
of the synagogue standeth up to prayer, he standeth 
on the ground before the ark, with his face toward the 
sanctuary, as the rest of the people.":}: 

* De Synagoga Vetere, lib. iii. par. i. cap. 1, 2, 3. 

f De Synedriis — passim. 

X Discourse on the service of God in religious assemblies. 
Chap. 3. p. 5Q. 


The number of the elders in each synagogue was 
not governed by any absolute rule. In large cities, 
according to certain Jewish authorities quoted by 
Vitringa, the number was frequently very large. But 
even in the smallest synagogues, we are assured, as 
mentioned in a former page, that there were never 
less than three, that the judicatory might never be 
equally divided. 

Such were the arrangements for maintaining purity 
and order in the synagogues, or parish churches of the 
old economy, anterior to the advent of the Messiah. 
It would seem to be impossible for any one to contem- 
plate this statement, so amply supported by all sound 
authority, without recognising a striking likeness to 
the arrangements afterwards adopted in the New 
Testament church. That this likeness is real, and 
has been maintained by some of the ablest writers on 
the subject, the following short extracts will sufficiently 

The first quotation shall be taken from Bishop 
Burnet. " Among the Jews," says he, " he who was 
the chief of the synagogue was called Chazan Hake- 
neseth^ that is, the bishop of the congregation^ and 
Sheliach Tsibbor^ the angel of the church. And the 
Christian church being modelled as near the form of 
the synagogue as could be, as they retained many of 
the rites, so the form of their government was con- 
tinued, and the names remained the same." And 
again; " in the synagogues there was, first, one that 
was called the bishop of the congregation. Next the 
three orders, and judges of every thing about the 
synagogue, who were called Tsekenim^ and by the 
Greeks, -ttsiit^vti^oi or ys^avrsf. These ordered and de- 
termined every thing that concerned the synagogue, 
or the persons in it. Next to them, were the three 
Parnassin, or deacons, v^hose charge was to gather the 
collections of the rich, and to distribute them to the 
poor. The term elder was generally given to all their 
judges, but chiefly to those of the great sanhedrim. 


So we have it, Matthew xvi. 21 ; Mark viii. 31 ; xiv, 
43; and xv. 1 ; and Acts xxiii. 14." " A great deal 
might be said to prove that the apostles, in their first 
constitutions, took things as they had been modelled 
to their hand in the synagogue. And this they did, 
both because it was not their design to innovate, ex- 
cept where the nature of the gospel dispensation 
obliged them to do it : as also, because they took all 
means possible to gain the Jews, who, we find, were 
zealous adherers to the traditions of their fathers, and 
not easily weaned from those precepts of Moses, which 
by Christ's death were evacuated. And if the apostles 
went so great a length in complying with them in 
greater matters, as circumcision and other legal ob- 
servances, (which appears from the Acts and Epistles,) 
we have good grounds to suppose that they would 
have yielded to them in what was more innocent and 
less important. Besides, there appears, both in our 
Lord himself, and in his apostles, a great inclination 
to symbolize with them as far as was possible. Now, 
the nature of the Christian worship shows evidently, 
that it came in the room of the synagogue, which was 
moral, and not of the temple worship, which was 
typical and ceremonial. Likewise this pari ty of customs 
betwixt the Jews and Christians, was such, that it 
made them taken by the Romans, and other more 
overly observers, for one sect of religion. And, finally, 
any that will impartially read the New Testament, 
will find that when the forms of government or worship 
are treated of, it is not done with such architectonal 
exactness, as was necessary, if a new thing had been 
instituted, which we find practised by Moses. But 
the apostles rather speak as those who give rules for 
the ordering and directing of what was already in 
being. From all which it seems well grounded and 
rational to assume, that the first constitution of the 
Christian churches was taken from the model of the 
synagogue, in which these elders were separated, for 


the discharge of their employments, by an imposition 
of hands, as all Jewish writers do clearly witness." * 

The second testimony shall be that of the Rev. Dr. 
Thomas Godwin, an English divine of great erudition, 
especially in oriental learning. In his well known 
work, entitled " Moses and Aaron," w^e find the follow- 
ing passage : — " There were in Israel distinct comets, 
consisting of distinct persons ; the one principally for 
church business, the other for affairs in the common- 
wealth : the one an ecclesiastical consistory, the other 
a civil judicatory. The secular consistory was named 
a sanhedrim, or council ; the spiritual, a synagogue. 
The office of the ecclesiastical court was to put a 
difference between things holy and unholy, and to 
determine appeals in controversies of difficulty. It 
was a representative church. Hence is that Die 
Ecdesios ; Matthew xviii. 16. f 

The next quotation shall be taken from Dr. Light- 
foot, another episcopal divine, still more distinguished 
for his oriental and rabbinical learning. " The apostle," 
says he, "calleth the minister Episcopus^ or [Bishop,) 
from the common and known title of the Chazan or 
Overseer in the synagogue." And again, — " Besides 
these, there was the public minister of the synagogue, 
who prayed publicly, and took care about reading the 
law, and sometimes preached, if there were not some 
other to discharge this office. This person was called, 
"11:2''!^ n"^bt27j the angel of the church, and nD3!3n 
^tn the Chazaii, or bishop of the congregation. The 
Aruch gives the reason of the name. The Chazan 
says he, is ^^^.2 rT^btZ? the angel of the church, (or 
the public minister,) and the Targiim renders the word 
nW1~i by the word ntin? ^^^ that oversees. For it 
is incumbent on him to oversee how the reader reads, 
and whom he may call out to read in the law. The 

* Observations on the First and Second Canons, &c. pp. 2,83, 
84, 85. Glasgow, 12rao. 1673. 

f Moses and Aaron, book 5, chapter i. 

public minister of the synagogue himself read not the 
law publicly ; but every Sabbath he called out seven 
of the synagogue (on other days fewer) whom he judged 
fit to read. He stood by him that read, with great care, 
observing that he read nothing either falsely or impro- 
perly, and called him back, and corrected him, if he 
had failed in any thing. And hence he was called 
Chazan, that is, E^r/^xa^a?, Bishop, or Overseer, Cer- 
tainly the signification of the words bishop and angel 
of the church, had been determined with less noise, 
if recourse had been had to the proper fountains, and 
men had not vainly disputed about the signification of 
words taken I know not whence. The service and 
worship of the temple being abolished, as being cere- 
monial, God transplanted the worship and public 
adoration of God used in the synagogues, which was 
moral, into the Christian church, viz. the public 
ministry, public prayers, reading God's word, and 
preaching, &c. Hence the names of the ministers of 
the gospel were the very same, the angel of the church, 
and the bishop, which belonged to the ministers in 
the synagogues. " There was in every synagogue a 
bench of three. This bench consisted of three elders, 
rightly and by imposition of hands preferred to the 
eldership." " There were also three deacons, or 
almoners, on which was the care of the poor." * 

In another place, the same learned orientalist, says, 
describing the worship in the Jewish synagogue: — 
" In the body of the church the congregation met, 
and prayed and heard the law, and the manner of their 
sitting was this, — The elders sat near the chancel, 
with their faces down the church ; and the people sat 
one form behind another, with their faces up the 
church, towards the chancel and the elders. Of these 
elders there were some that had rule and office in the 
synagogue, and some that had not. And this distinc- 
tion the apostle seemeth to allude unto, in that much 

* Lightfoot's Works, Vol. T. p. 308. Vol. II. pp. 133, 755. 

- 29 

disputed text, 1 Tim. v. 18. * The elders that rule 
well,' &c. ; where ' the elders that ruled well ' are set 
not only in opposition to those that ruled ill, but to 
those that ruled 7iot at all. We may see then, whence 
these titles and epithets in the New Testament are 
taken, namely, from the common platform and consti- 
tution of the synagogues, where Angelus Ecclesice, 
and Episcopus were terms of so ordinary use and 
knowledge. And we may observe from whence the 
apostle taketh his expressions, when he speaketh of 
some elders ruling, and labouring in word and doctrine, 
and some not ; namely, from the same platform and 
constitution of the synagogue, where ' the ruler of the 
synagogue ' was more singularly for ruling the affairs 
of the synagogue, and ' the minister of the congrega- 
tion,' labouring in the word, and reading the law, and 
in doctrine about the preaching of it. Both these 
together are sometimes called jointly, ' the rulers of 
the synagogue;' Acts xiii. 15; Mark v. 22; being 
both elders that ruled ; but the title is more singularly 
given to the first of them." * 

Again, he says: — " In all the Jews' synagogues 
there were Parnasin, deacons, or such as had care of 
the poor, whose work it was to gather alms for them 
from the congregation, and to distribute it to them. 
That needful office is here (Acts vi.) translated into 
the Christian church, f 

The fourth quotation shall be taken from Dr. (after- 
wards Bishop) Stillingfleet, who, in his Irenicum, 
maintains a similar position with confidence and zeal. 
The following is a specimen of his language: — " That 
which we lay, then, as a foundation, whereby to clear 
what apostolical practice was, is that the apostles, in 
forming churches, did observe the customs of the 
Jewish synagogue." % And in support of this position, 

* Lightfoot-'s Works, vol i. pp. 611, 612. 
f Ibid, i. 279. 

X Irenicum. Part 2, chapter 6. 


particularly in reference to the eldership of the syna- 
gogue, he quotes a large number of the most distin- 
guished writers, both Jewish and Christian. It is due 
to candour, indeed, to state, that Stillingfleet does not 
admit that any of the elders, either of the synagogue, 
or of the primitive church, were lay elders, but thinks 
they were all invested with some kind of clerical 
character. This, however, as before remarked, does 
not at all aifect the value of his testimony to the 
general fact, that, in every synagogue there was a 
consistory, or judicatory of elders, and that the same 
class of officers was adopted, both name and thing, in 
the apostolic church, which he unequivocally asserts 
and proves. 

In the same general doctrine, Grotius and Salma- 
sius of Holland, decisively concur. By Grotius, the 
following strong and unqualified language is used : — 
" The whole polity or order (regimen) of the churches 
of Christ, was conformed to the model of the Jewish 
synagogue." And, again, speaking of ordination by 
the imposition of hands, he says, — " This method was 
observed in setting apart the rulers and elders of the 
synagogue; and thence the custom passed into the 
Christian church."* Salmasius also, and other writers 
of equally profound learning, might be quoted as 
unequivocally deciding, that the synagogue had a 
bench of ruling elders, and that a similar bench, after 
that model, was constituted in the Christian church. 
Especially, he contends that the elders of the church 
were, beyond all doubt, taken from the eldership in 
the synagogue, f 

The learned Spencer, a divine of the church of 
England, in the seventeenth century, teaches the same 
general doctrine, when he says, — " The apostles also, 
that this reformation (the change from the Old to the 

* Grotii Annotationes in Act. Apost. vi. xi. 
f De Priinatu Papce. cap. i. 


New Testament dispensation) might proceed gently, 
and without noise, received into the Christian church 
many of those institutions which had been long in use 
among the Jews. Among the number of these may 
be reckoned, the imposition of hands, bishops, elders, 
and deacons, excommunication, ordination, and other 
things familiar to learned men."* 

The Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke, whose eminent learn- 
ing no competent judge will question, also bears testi- 
mony, that in every Jewish synagogue, at the time of 
the coming of Christ, and before, there was an 
ecclesiastical judicatory, or little court, whose duty it 
was to conduct the spiritual government of each con- 
gregation. Among several places in which he makes 
this statement, the following is decisive : — In his Com- 
mentary on James ii. 2, he says, — " In ancient times 
petty courts of judicature were held in the synagogues, 
as Vitringa has sufficiently proved, De Vet. Syn. 1.3; 
and it is probable that the case here adduced was one 
of a judicial kind; where of the two parties, one was 
rich, and the other poor; and the master or ruler of 
the synagogue, or he who presided in this court, paid 
particular deference to the rich man, and neglected 
the poor person ; though as plaintiflP and defendant, 
they were equal in the eye of justice." 

I shall cite on this subject only one more authority, 
that of the celebrated Augustus Neander, professor in 
the university of Berlin, and generally considered as, 
perhaps, more profoundly skilled in Christian antiqui- 
ties, than any other man now living. He is, moreover, 
a minister of the Lutheran church, and, of course, 
has no sectarian spirit to gratify in vindicating Pres- 
byterianism. And, what is not unworthy of notice, 
being himself of Jewish extraction, he has enjoyed the 
highest advantages for exploring the peculiar polity of 
that people. After showing at some length, that the 
government of the primitive church was not monar- 

* De Legibiis Hebroeoruni, Lib. iii. Dissert. 1. cap. 2. sect. 4. 


chical or prelatical, but dictated throughout by a spirit 
of mutual love, counsel, and prayer, he goes on to 
express himself thus : " We may suppose that where 
any thing could be found in the way of church forms, 
w^hich was consistent with this spirit, it would be 
willingly appropriated by the Christian community. 
Now there happened to be in the Jewish synagogue, 
a system of government of this nature, not monarchical, 
but rather aristocratical (or a government of the 
most venerable and excellent.) A council of elders, 
Qi^p^ ^^iff^vn^oi, conducted all the affairs of that body. 
It seemed most natural that Christianity, developing 
itself from the Jewish religion, should take this form 
of government. This form must also have appeared 
natural and appropriate to the Roman citizens, since 
their nation had, from the earliest times, been, to some 
extent, under the control of a senate, composed of 
senators, or elders. When the church was placed 
under a council of elders, they did not always happen 
to be the oldest in reference to years; but the term 
expressive of age here, was, as in the Latin Senatus, and 
in the Greek yi^outrta., expressive of worth or merit. Be- 
sides the common name of these overseers of the 
church, to wit^ •^^iff^vn^oi, there were man}^ other names 
given, according to the peculiar situation occupied by 
the individual, or rather his peculiar field of labour; 
as 'ffoifjt.ivii, shepherds; ^yoiJ[/.ivot leaders; '^goitfrum ruv a.hx(puv, 
rulers of the brethren; and i^'sfioxoi, overseers."* 

Now, if in the ancient Jewish synagogue, the 
government of the congregation was not vested, either 
in the people at large, or in any single individual, but 
in a bench of elders; if this is acknowledged on all hands, 
as one of the clearest and most indubitable facts in Jewish 
antiquity; and if, in the judgment of the most learned 
and pious divines that ever lived, both episcopal and 
non-episcopal, the New Testament church was formed 
after the model of the Jewish synagogue, and not 

* Kircliengeschichte, vol. i, pp. 283, 285. 


after the pattern of the temple service; we may, of 
course, expect to find some evidence of this in the 
history of the apostoHc churches. How far this ex- 
pectation is reahzed, will be seen in the next 



In this chapter it is proposed to show, that the office 
in question is mentioned in the New Testament, as 
existing in the apostohc church ; that it was adopted 
from the synagogue, and that it occupied, in substance, 
the same place in the days of the apostles, that it now 
occupies in our truly primitive and Scriptural church. 
The first assertion is, that this class of officers was 
adopted in the church of Christ, under its New Testa- 
ment form, after the model of the synagogue. Some 
have said, indeed, that the apostles adopted the model 
of the temple, and not of the synagogue service, in 
the organization of the church. But the slightest im- 
partial attention to facts, will be sufficient, it is believed, 
to disprove this assertion. If we compare the titles, 
the powers, the duties, and the ordination of the officers 
of the Christian church, as well as the nature and 
order of its public service, as established by the apostles, 
with the temple and the synagogue systems respectivelj^, 
we shall find the organization and service of the 
church to resemble the temple in scarcely any thing, 
while they resemble the synagogue in almost every 
thing. There were bishops, elders, and deacons, in 
the synagogue ; but no officers bearing these titles, or 
performing similar functions in the temple. There 
was ordination by the imposition of hands in the 


synagogue; but no such ordination in the temple. 
There were reading the Scriptures, expounding them, 
and pubhc prayers, every Sabbath day in the syna- 
gogue, while the body of the people went up to the 
temple only three times a year, and even then to 
attend on a very different service. In the synagogue, 
there was a system established, which included a 
weekly provision, not only for the instruction and 
devotions of the people, but also for the maintenance 
of discipline, and the care of the poor; while scarcely 
any thing of this kind was to be found in the temple. 
Now, in all these respects, and in many more which 
might be mentioned, the Christian church followed 
the synagogue model, and departed from that of the 
temple. Could we trace a resemblance only in one 
or a few points, it might be considered as accidental ; 
but the resemblance is so close, so striking, and extends 
to so many particulars, as to arrest the attention of the 
most careless inquirer. It was, indeed, notoriously 
so great in the early ages, that the heathen frequently 
suspected Christian churches of being Jewish syna- 
gogues in disguise, and stigmatized them as such 

And when it is considered that all the first converts 
to Christianity were Jews ; that they had been accus- 
tomed to the offices and service of the synagogue 
during their whole lives; that they came into the 
church with all the feelings and habits connected with 
their old institutions strongly prevalent; and that the 
organization and service of the synagogue were of a 
moral nature, in all their leading characters, proper to 
be adopted under any dispensation ; while the typical 
and ceremonial service of the temple was then done 
away; when these things are considered, will it not 
appear perfectly natural that the apostles, themselves 
native Jews, should be disposed to make as little change 
in converting synagogues into Christian churches, as 
was consistent with the spirituality of the new dispen- 
sation ? That the synagogue model, therefore, should 


be adopted, would seem beforehand, to be the most 
probable of all events,. Nor is this a new or sectarian 
notion. Whoever looks into the writings of some of 
the early fathers, of the reformers, and of a large portion 
of the most learned men who have adorned the church 
of Christ, subsequently to the reformation, will find a 
very remarkable concurrence of opinion that such was 
the model really adopted in the organization of the 
apostolic church. Most of the distinguished writers 
whose names are mentioned in the preceding chapter, 
are, as Ave have seen, unanimous and zealous in main- 
taining this position. 

Accordingly, as soon as we begin to read of the 
apostles organizing churches on the New Testament 
plan, we find them instituting officers of precisely the 
same nature, and bestowing on them, for the most part, 
the very same titles to which they had been accustomed 
in the ordinary sabbatical service under the preceding 
economy. We find bishops, elders, and deacons, 
every where appointed. We find a plurality of elders 
ordained in every church. And we find the elders 
represented as " overseers," or inspectors of the church; 
as " rulers " in the house of God, and the members of 
the church exhorted to " obey them," and " submit" 
to them, as to persons charged with their spiritual 
interests, and entitled to their affectionate and dutiful 

The following passages may be considered as a 
specimen of the New Testament representations on 
this subject. " And when they had ordained them 
elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, 
they commended them to the Lord, on whom they 
believed;" Acts xiv. 23. " And when they were 
come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, 
and of the apostles and elders. And the apostles and 
elders came together to consider of this matter;" Acts 
XV. 4, 6. " And from Miletus, he (Paul) sent to 
Ephesus, and called the elders of the church; and 
when they were come unto him, he said unto them. 


take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over 
which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers ; " Acts 
XX. 20, 28. " Is any sick among you ? let him call 
for the elders of the church, and let them pray over 
him," &c.; James v. 14. " The elders which are 
among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a 
witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker 
of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the flock 
of God that is among you, taking the oversight thereof, 
not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, 
but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over 
God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock;" 
1 Peter v. 1, 2, 3. " For this cause left I thee in 
Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that 
are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I have 
appointed thee;" Titus i. 5. " Obey them that have 
the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch 
for your souls as they that must give account;" Heb- 
rews xiii. 17. " And we beseech you brethren, to 
know them which labour among you, and are over you 
in the Lord, and admonish you, and to esteem them 
very highly in love for their works' sake;" 1 Thessa- 
lonians v. 12, 13. " Let the elders that rule well be 
accounted worthy of double honour, especially they 
who labour in the word and doctrine ; " 1 Timothy v. 
17. To whatever church our attention is directed in 
the inspired history, we find in it a plurality of elders; 
we find the mass of the church members spoken of as 
under their authority ; and while the people are ex- 
horted to submit to their rule, with all readiness and 
affection, these rulers are commanded, in the name 
of Christ, to exercise the power vested in them by the 
great Head of the Church, with firmness and fidelity, 
and yet with disinterestedness and moderation, so as 
to promote most effectually, the purity and order of 
the flock. 

The circumstance of our finding it so uniformly 
stated that there was a plurality of elders ordained in 


every church, is certainly worthy of particular attention 
here. If there had been a plurality of these officers 
appointed only in some of the more populous cities, 
where there were probably several worshipping asssem- 
blies; where the congregations may be supposed to 
have been unsually large, and where it was important, 
of course, to have more than a single preacher ; then 
we might consider this fact as very well reconcileable 
with the doctrine of those who assert, that all the 
elders in the apostolic church were official teachers. 
But as both the direction and the practice were to 
ordain elders, that is, more than one, at least, in every 
church, small as well as great, there is, evidently, very 
strong presumption that it v/as intended to conform to 
the synagogue model ; and if so, that the whole of the 
number so ordained could not be necessary for the 
purpose of public instruction; but that some were 
rulers, who, as in the synagogue, formed a kind of 
congregational presbytery, or consistory, for the 
government of the church. The idea that it was 
considered as necessary, at such a time, that every 
church should have two, three, or four pastors, or 
ministers, in the modern popular sense of those terms, 
is manifestly altogether inadmissible. But if a majority 
of these elders, whatever their ordination or authority 
might be, were in fact employed, not in teaching, but 
in ruling, all difficulty vanishes at once. 

Accordingly, the learned Vitringa, before mentioned, 
whose authority is much relied upon to disprove the 
existence of the office of ruling elder in the primitive 
church, explicitly acknowledges, not only that there 
was then a plurality of elders in every church, but 
that, as in the synagogue, the greater part of these 
were, in fact, employed in ruling only; and that 
although all of them were set apart to their office in 
the same manner, and were, ecclesiastically, of the 
same rank ; yet a majority of them, from want of 
suitable qualifications, were not fitted to be public 


preachers, and seldom or never attempted this part of 
the service. * 

But there are distinct passages of Scripture, which 
have been deemed, by some of the most impartial and 
competent interpreters, very plainly to point out the 
class of elders now under consideration. 

In Romans xii. 6, 7, 8, the apostle exhorts as fol- 
lows: — " Having then gifts, differing according to the 
grace given to us ; whether prophecy, let us prophecy 
according to the proportion of faith ; or ministry, let 
us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on 
teaching ; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation ; he 
that giveth, let him do it with simplicity ; he that ruleth^ 
with diligence ; he that showeth mercy, with cheerful- 
ness." With this passage may be connected another, 
of similar character, and to be interpreted on the same 
principles. In 1 Corinthians xii. 28, we are told, — 
*' God hath sent some in the church, first apostles, 
secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that 
miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments^ 
diversities of tongues." In both these passages there 
is a reference to the different offices and gifts bestowed 
on the church by her divine King and Head : in both 
of them there is a plain designation of an office for 
ruling or government, distinct from that of teaching ; 
and in both, also, this office evidently has a place 
assigned to it below that of pastors and teachers. 
Now, this office, by whatever name it may be called, 
or whatever doubts may be started as to some minor 
questions respecting its powers and investiture, is sub- 
stantially the same with that which Presbyterians 
distinguish by the title of ruling elder. 

Some, indeed, have said that the apostle in 1 Cor- 
inthians xii. 28, is not speaking of distinct offices, but 
of different duties, devolving on the church as a body. 
But no one, it is believed, who impartially considers 
the whole passage, can adopt this opinion. In the 

* Vitringa De Synagoga Vetere. Lib. ii. chap. ii. 


whole of the context, from the 12th verse, the apostle 
is speaking of the church of God under the emblem 
of a body, and affirms that, in this body, there is a 
variety of members adapted to the comfort and con- 
venience of the whole body. " For the body," says 
he, " is not one member, but many. If the foot shall 
say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the 
body, is it, therefore, not of the body? And if the 
ear shall say. Because I am not the eye, I am not of 
the body, is it, therefore, not of the body? If the 
v/hole body were an eye, where were the hearing? 
If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 
But now hath God set the members every one of them 
in the body as it hath pleased him. And if they were 
all one member, where were the body?" Plainly 
implying that in every ecclesiastical, as well as in every 
natural body, there are different functions and offices; 
that all cannot be teachers ; that all cannot be gover- 
nors, or governments, but that to each and every 
functionary is assigned his proper work and duty. 

Nor is this interpretation of the apostle confined to 
Presbyterians. Peter Martyr, the learned Italian 
reformer, interprets the passage before us just as we 
have done. In his Commentary on 1 Corinthians xii, 
28, he speaks thus : " Governments. — Those who are 
honoured with this function, are such as were fitted 
for the work of government, and who know how to 
conduct every thing relating to discipline righteously 
and prudently. For the church of Christ had its 
government. And because a single pastor was not 
able to accomplish every thing himself, there were 
joined with him, in the ancient church, certain elders, 
chosen from among the people, well-informed, and 
skilled in spiritual things, who formed a kind of 
parochial senate. These, with the pastor, deliberated 
on every matter relating to the care and edification of 
the church. Which thing Ambrose makes mention 
of in writing on the epistle to Timothy. Among 
these elders the pastor took the lead, not as a tyrant, 


but rather as a consul presiding in a council of senators." 
Many Episcopalians and others find in the passage 
the same sense. The Reverend Herbert Thorndike, 
before quoted, a learned divine of the church of Eng- 
land, who lived in the reign of Charles I., speaks thus 
of the passage last cited. " There is no reason to 
doubt, that the men whom the apostle, 1 Cor. xii. 28, 
and Ephes. iv. 11, called doctors, or teachers, are 
those of the presbyters, who had the abilities of preach- 
ing and teaching the people at their assemblies. That 
those of the presbyters who preached not, are called 
here by the apostle, governments; and the deacons, 
avTiX.y,-^u?, that is, helps, or assistants to the govern- 
ment of presbyters; so that it is not to be translated 
helps in governments, but helps, governments, &c. 
There were two parts of the presbyter's office, viz. 
teaching and governing, the one whereof some attained 
not, even in the apostles' times." * 

But there is still more pointed reference to this 
class of elders in I Timothy v. 17, " Let the elders 
that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, 
especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." 
It would seem that every person of plain common 
sense, who had never heard of any diversity of opinion 
on the subject, would, without hesitation, conclude, 
on reading this passage, that, at the period in which 
it was written, there were two kinds of elders, one 
whose duty it was to labour in the word and doctrine, 
and another who did not thus labour, but only ruled 
in the church. The apostle declares that elders who 
rule well are worthy of double honour, but especially 
those who labour in the word and doctrine. Now, if 
we suppose that there was only one class of elders 
then in the church, and that they were all teachers, or 
labourers in the word and doctrine, we make the in- 
spired apostle speak in a manner utterly unworthy of 
his high character. There was, therefore, a class of 

* Discourse of Relig^ious Assemblies. Chap. iv. p. 117, 


elders in the apostolic church, who did not, in fact, or 
at any rate ordinarily preach, or administer sacra- 
ments, but assisted in government; in other words, 
ruling elders. 

For this construction of the passage, Dr. Whitaker, 
a zealous and learned Episcopal divine, and Regius 
Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, 
of whom Bishop Hall remarks, that " no man ever 
saw him without reverence, or heard him without 
wonder," very warmly contends, — " By these words," 
says he, " the apostle evidently distinguishes between 
the bishops and the inspectors of the church. If all 
who rule well be worthy of double honour, especially 
they who labour in the word and doctrine, it is plain 
that there were some w^ho did not so labour; for if all 
had been of this description, the meaning would have 
been absurd; but the word especially points out a 
difference. If I should sa}- that all w^ho study well at 
the University are worthy of double honour, especially 
they who labour in the study of theology, I must either 
mean, that all do not apply themselves to the study of 
theology, or I should speak nonsense. Wherefore I 
confess that to be the most genuine sense by which 
pastors and teachers are distinguished from those who 
only governed : Romans xii. 8. Of this class of elders 
Ambrose speaks in his Commentary on 1 Tim. v. 1."* 

The learned and venerable Dr. Owen, gives his 
opinion of the import of this passage, in still more 
pointed language. " This is a text," says he, "of in- 
controllable evidence, if it had any thing to conflict 
withal but prejudice and interest. A rational man, 
who is unprejudiced, who never heard of the contro- 
versy about ruling elders, can hardly avoid an appre- 
hension that there are two sorts of elders, some who 
labour in the word and doctrine, and some who do 
not so do. The truth is, it was interest and prejudice 

* Prselectiones, as quoted in Caldervvood's Altare Damas- 
cenura, p. 681. 


which first caused some learned men to strain their 
wits to find out evasions from the evidence of this 
testimony. Being found out, some others of meaner 
abihties have been entangled by them. There are 
elders, then, in the church. There are, or ought to 
be so in every church. With these elders the whole 
rule of the church is intrusted. All these, and only 
they, do rule in it." * 

Equally to our purpose is the judgment of that 
acute and learned Episcopal divine. Dr. Whitby, in 
his Commentary on this passage : — " The elders of 
the Jews," says he, " were of two sorts; 1st, such as 
governed in the synogogue, and 2dly, such as mini- 
stered in reading and expounding their scriptures and 
traditions, and from them, pronouncing what did bind 
or loose, or what was forbidden, and what w^as lawful 
to be done. For when, partly by their captivity, and 
partly through increase of traffic, they were dispersed 
in considerable bodies through divers regions of the 
world, it was necessary that they should have gover- 
nors or magistrates to keep them in their duty, and 
judge of criminal causes ; and also rabbins, to teach 
them the law, and the tradition of their fathers. The 
first were ordained ad judicandum^ sed non ad docen- 
dum de licitis et vetitis, i. e. to judge and govern, but 
not to teach. The second, ad docendum, sed non ad 
judicandum, i. e. to teach, but not to judge or govern." 
••* And these the apostle here declares to be the most 
honourable, and worthy of the chiefest reward. Ac- 
cordingly, the apostle, reckoning up the officers God 
had appointed in the church, places teachers before 
governments;" I Cor. xii. 28. 

I am aware that a number of glosses have been 
adopted to set aside the testimony of this cogent text 
in favour of ruling elders. To enumerate and show 
the invalidity of them all, would be inconsistent with 

* True Nature of a Gospel Church. Chapter vii. pp. 141, 
142, 143. 


the limits to which this manual is restricted. But a 
few of the most plausible and popular may be deemed 
worthy of notice. 

Some, for example, have said, that by the elders 
that rule well in this passage, civil magistrates are 
intended ; while, by those who labour in the word and 
doctrine, ministers of the gospel are pointed out. But 
it will occur to every reflecting reader, that at the 
time when the passage of Scripture under considera- 
tion was addressed to Timothy, and for several 
centuries afterwards, there were no Christian magis- 
strates in the Church ; and to suppose that the church 
is exhorted to choose heathen judges or magistrates, 
to compose differences, and maintain order among the 
followers of Christ, is in the highest degree im- 
probable, not to say altogether absurd. 

Others have alleged that by the elders that rule 
well are meant deacons. It is enough to reply to 
this suggestion, that it has never been shown, or can 
be shown, that deacons are any where in the New 
Testament distinguished by the title of elders; and, 
further, that the function of ruling is no where repre- 
sented as belonging to their office. They were ap- 
pointed A/a«av£o T^a.'TnZ.a.ti " to scrvc tablcs ; " Acts vi. 2, 3 ; 
but not to act as rulers in the house of God. Of 
this, however, more in a subsequent chapter. 

A third class of objectors contend, that the word 
^ax^sra, which our translators have rendered "especially," 
ought to be translated " much. " That it is not to be 
considered as distino^uishino; one class of elders from 
another, but as marking intensity of degree : in other 
words, that it is meant to be exegetical of those who 
rule well ; viz. those who labour much^ or with peculiar 
diligence, in the word and doctrine. On this plan, 
the verse in question would read thus : — Let the elders 
who rule well, that is, who labour much in the word 
and doctrine, be accounted worthy of double honour. 
If this were adopted as the meaning of the passage, 
it would go to show, that it is for preaching alone. 


and not for ruling well, that elders are entitled to 
honour. But is it rational or consistent with other 
parts of Scripture, to suppose that no honour is due to 
the latter? It has also been contended, by excellent 
Greek critics, that the structure of the sentence will 
not, naturally, bear this interpretation. It is not said, 
0, fj^a.\i',ra. KO'^imri? as would have been the proper order 
of the words, if such had been the meaning intended 
to be conveyed; hut f/.a.x,gTK ot ho'^uvti? ■■ — not those who 
labour with especial diligence and exertion, but es- 
pecially those who labour, &c. But the most decisive 
consideration is, that not a single case can be found 
in the New Testament in which the word H-^^t?ra has 
the signification here attributed to it. It is so gene- 
rally used to distinguish one class of objects from 
another, that we may safely venture to say, it cannot 
possibly have a different meaning in the passage be- 
fore us. A fev/ decisive examples will be sufficient. 
In the same chapter, from which the passage under 
consideration is taken, (1 Tim. v. 8,) it is said, — " If 
any man provide not for his own, and especially 
(^/u,a.xi;rci) for thosc of his owu house, he hath denied 
the faith," &c. Again, (Gal. iv. 10,) " Let us do 
good unto all men, but especially (^aX/jra) unto them 
who are the household of faith." Again, (Philip, iv. 
22,) "All the saints salute you, chiefly (i^«x/jr«) they 
of Cgesar's household." Thus also, (2 Tim. iv. 13,) 
" When thou comest, bring with thee the books, but 
especially (^a>-'jT«) the parchments." Further, (I 
Tim. iv. 10,) " Who is the Saviour of all men, es- 
pecially (^aX;jTa) of thosc who belicve." Again, 
(Titus i. 10,) " For there are many unruly and vain 
talkers, especially (^aX/jra) they of the circumcision." 
Now, in all these cases, there are two classes of objects 
intended to be distinguished from each other. Some 
of the saints were of Cassar's household, and others 
were not. Good was to be done to all men ; but all 
were not believers. There were many vain and unruly 


talkers alluded to, but they were not all of the cir- 
cumcision ; and so of the rest. 

A fourth class of objectors to our construction of 
this passage, are certain prelatists, who allege, that by 
the elders that rule well, the apostle intends to designate 
superannuated bishops, who, though too old to labour 
in the word and doctrine, were still able to assist in 
ruling. To this it is sufficient to reply, that, whether 
we understand the " honour " (T/^>if) to which the 
apostle refers, as intended to designate pecuniary 
support, or rank and dignity, it would seem contrary 
to every principle, both of reason and Scripture, that 
younger and more vigorous labourers in the word and 
doctrine, should have a portion of this honour awarded 
to them, superior to that which is yielded to those who 
have become worn out in the same kind of service. 
These aged, venerable, and exhausted dignitaries, 
according to this construction, are to be, indeed, much 
honoured, but less than their junior brethren, whose 
strength for labour still continues. 

A further objection made to our construction of 
this passage is, that when the apostle speaks of double 
honour {^i^^-is r,f/,n?) as due to those who rule well, he 
refers, not to respect and regard, but to temporal 
support.* Now, say this class of objectors, as Presby- 
terians never give salaries to their ruling elders, they 

* It is worthy of notice, that Calvin, in his Commentary on 
this place, g-ives the following- view of the apostle's meaning-, 
when he speaks of douhle honour. " When Chrysostora inter- 
prets the phrase double honour, as importing support and rever- 
ence, I do not impugn his opinion. Let those adopt it who 
think proper. But to me it appears more probable, that a com- 
parison is here intended between widows and elders. Paul had 
just before commanded to have widows in honour. But elders 
are still more worthy of honour than they. Wherefore to these 
double honour is to be given." This interpretation is natural 
and consistent. " Honour widows," says the apostle, " that are 
widows indeed;" but " let the elders that rule well be counted 
worthy of double honour, especially those that labour in the 
word and doctrine." The same \> ord is used to express honour, 
in both cases. 


cannot be the kind of officers contemplated by the 
sacred writer in this place. But is it certain, that by 
the original term here translated, " honour," salary, 
or maintenance, is really intended? Why not assign 
to the word ^'i^" its more common signification, viz. 
honour, high respect, reverence? It is common to 
say, that the illustration contained in the 18th verse, — 
" Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the 
corn ; and the labourer is worthy of his reward," seem 
to fix the meaning to temporal support. But those 
illustrations only carry with them the general idea of 
reward; and surely a reward may be of the moral as 
well as of the pecuniary kind. But supposing the 
inspired apostle really to mean double, that is, liberal 
maintenance, still this interpretation does not at all 
militate against our doctrine. It might have been 
very proper, in the days of Paul, to give all the elders 
a decent temporal support, as a reward for their 
services. But if any elders chose to decline receiving 
a regular stipend, as Paul himself seems to have done, 
he surely did not, by this disinterestedness, forfeit his 
office. It may be that ruling elders ought now to 
receive a compensation for their services, especially 
when they devote to the church a large part of their 
time and talents. But if any are willing to render 
their services gratuitously, whether they be ruling or 
preaching elders, every one sees that this cannot des- 
troy, or even impair their official standing. 

Accordingly, it will be seen in the sequel, that there 
is a concurrence of sentiment in favour of our con- 
struction of this celebrated passage in Timothy, among 
the most distinguished divines of all denominations, 
Protestant and Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed, 
truly remarkable, and affi^rding a very strong pre- 
sumptive argument in favour of its correctness. 

There is another class of passages, already quoted 
in a former part of this chapter, which is entitled to 
more formal consideration. I mean such as that 
found in 1 Thessalonians v. 12, 13. " And we beseech 


you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, 
and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and 
to esteem them very highly in love for their works' 
sake." Such also as that found in Hebrews xiii. 17. 
" Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit 
yourselves ; for they watch for you souls as they that 
must give account," &c. Here the inspired writer is 
evidently speaking of particular churches. He repre- 
sents them as each having a body of rulers " set over 
them in the Lord," who, " watch over them," and 
whom they are bound to " obey." In short, we find 
a set of officers spoken of, who are not merely to 
instruct, and exhort, but to exercise official authority 
in the church. Now, this representation can be made 
to agree with no other form of government than that 
of the Presbyterian church. Not with Prelacy, for 
that presents no ruler in any single church but the 
Rector only. It knows nothing of a parochial council 
or senate, who conduct discipline, and perform all the 
duties of spiritual rule. Not with Independency, for 
according to the essential principles of that system, 
the body of the communicants are all equally rulers, 
and even the pastor is only the chairman or president, 
not properly the ruler of the church. But with the 
Presbyterian form of church government, in which 
every congregation is furnished with a bench of spiri- 
tual rulers, whom the people are bound to reverence 
and obey, it agrees perfectly. 

There is only one passage more which will be ad- 
duced in support of the class of elders before us. 
This is found in Matthew xviii. 15, 16, 17. Here it 
is believed that the 17th verse, which enjoins, — " Tell 
it to the church," has evidently a reference to the plan 
of discipline known to have been pursued in the Jewish 
synagogue ; and that the meaning is, " Tell it to that 
consistory or judicatory, which is the church acting by 
its representatives." It is true, indeed, that some 
Independents, of more zeal than caution, have confi- 
dently quoted this passage as making decisively in 


favour of their scheme of popular government. But 
when carefully examined, it will be found not only by 
no means to answer their purpose, but rather to sup- 
port the Presbyterian cause. We must always inter- 
pret language agreeably to the well known under- 
standing and habit of the time and the country in 
which it is delivered. Now, it is perfectly certain 
that the phrase — " Tell it to the church," was con- 
stantly in use among the Jews to express the carrying 
a complaint to the eldership or representatives of the 
church. And it is quite as certain, that actual cases 
occur in the Old Testament in which the term church 
(£»xX'.7<r/«) is applied to the body of elders. See, as an 
example of this, Deuteronomy xxxi. 28, 30, comparing 
our translation with that of the Seventy, as alluded to 
in a preceding chapter. We can scarcely avoid the 
conclusion, then, that our blessed Lord meant to teach 
his disciples, that as it had been in the Jewish syna- 
gogue, so it would be in the Christian church, that 
the sacred community should be governed by a bench 
of rulers regularly chosen and set apart for this purpose. 
In support of this construction of the passage before 
us, we have the concurring judgment of a large ma- 
jority of Protestant divines, of all denominations. 
We have not only the opinion of Calvin, Beza, 
Parseus, and a great number of distinguished writers 
on the continent of Europe; but also of Lightfoot, 
Goodwin, and many others, both ministers of the 
Church of England, and the Independents of that 
country. It is worthy of remark, too, that Chrysos- 
tom, known to be an eminently learned and accom- 
plished father, of the fourth century, evidently under- 
stands this passage in the Gospel according to St. 
Matthew, as substantially agreeing with the views of 
Presbyterians; or, at any rate, as totally rejecting the 
Independent doctrine. Zanchius, (in Quart. Proecept.) 
and Junius (Controv. iii. lib. ii. cap. vi.) quote him 
as asserting, in his Commentary on this place, that 
bv the church to which the offence was to be told, 


we are to understand the t^oio^oi xai T^oia-runs of the 

It may not be improper, before taking leave of the 
scriptural testimony in favour of ruhng elders, to 
take some notice of an objection which has been 
advanced with much confidence, but which, manifestly, 
when examined, will be found destitute of the smallest 
force. It has been said that great reliance is placed 
on the word ^iosffn^ns, found in 1 Timothy v. 17, as 
expressive of the ruling character of the office under 
consideration; whereas, say these objectors, this very 
word, as is universally known and acknowledged, is 
applied by several of the early fathers to teaching 
elders, to those who evidently bore the office of pastors 
of churches, and who were, of course, not mere rulers, 
but also " labourers in the word and doctrine." If, 
therefore, this title be applied to those who w^ere con- 
fessedly teachers, what evidence have we that it is 
intended, in any case, to designate a different class? 
This objection is founded on a total misrepresentation 
of the argument which it is supposed to refute. The 
advocates of the office of ruling elder do not contend 
or believe that the function of ruling is confined to this 
class of officers. On the contrary, they suppose and 
teach that one class of elders both rule and teach, 
while the other class rule only. Both, according to 
the doctrine of the Presbyterian church, are -r^oiffTuri; -, 
but one only " labour in the w^ord and doctrine." 
When, therefore, cases are found in the early records 
of the church in which the presiding elder or pastor, 
is styled '^^o'-ffru;, the fact is in perfect harmony with 
the usual argument from 1 Tim. v. 17; the import of 
which we maintain to be this : — Let all the elders that 
rule well, be counted worthy of double honour, es- 
pecially those of their number who, besides ruling, 
besides acting as T^onrrurt;, in common with the others, 
also labour in the word and doctrine. 

It has also been contended that the whole doctrine 
of the ruling, as distinct from the teaching elder. 


tends to weaken, if not wholly to destroy, the Presby- 
terian argument in favour of parity in the gospel 
ministry, drawn from the fact, that both Scripture 
and early Christian antiquity represent bishop and 
presbyter as convertible titles for the same office. 
Presbyterians maintain, and I have no doubt, with 
perfect truth, that, in the language of the New Testa- 
ment, a bishop means the pastor, or overseer of a 
single church or parish; that bishop and presbyter 
are not titles which imply different grades of office ; 
but that a presbyter or elder who has a pastoral charge, 
who is the overseer of a flock, is a scriptural bishop, 
and holds the highest office that Christ has instituted 
in his church. Now, it has been alledged by the 
opponents of ruling elders, that to represent the 
Scriptures as holding forth two classes of elders, one 
class as both teaching and ruling, and the other as 
ruling only, and, consequently, the latter as holding a 
station not exactly identical with the former, amounts 
to a virtual surrender of the argument derived from 
the identity of bishop and presbyter. 

This objection, however, is totally groundless. If 
we suppose elder, as used in Scripture, to be a generic 
term, comprehending all who bore rule in the church ; 
and if we consider the term bishop, as also a generic 
term, including all who sustained the relation of official 
inspectors or overseers of a flock; then it is plain 
that all bishops were scriptural elders; and that all 
elders, whether both teachers and rulers, or rulers 
only, provided they were placed over a parish, as in- 
spectors or overseers, were scriptural bishops. Now 
this, I have no doubt, was the fact. When, therefore, 
the apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Philippi, 
addresses the bishops and deacons; and when in his 
conference with the elders of the church of Ephesus, 
at Miletus, he speaks o^ them all equally as overseers, 
or, as it is in the original, bishops (E^i^xo^ov;) of that 
church, 1 take for granted he included the rulers 
iis well as the teachers, in both instances. In a word 


I suppose that, in every truly primitive and apostolic 
church, there was a bench of elders, or overseers, who 
presided over all the spiritual interests of the con- 
gregation ; that, generally, a small part only of these, 
and perhaps seldom more than one, statedly preached ; 
that the rest, though probably ordained in the same 
manner with their colleagues, very rarely, if ever, 
taught publicly, but were employed as inspectors and 
rulers, and it may be, also, in visiting, catechizing, 
and instructing from house to house. If this were 
the case, and every part of the New Testament his- 
tory favours the supposition, then nothing can be 
more natural than the language of the inspired writers 
in reference to this whole subject. Then w^e readily 
understand why the apostle should say to Titus, — 
" For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest 
set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain 
elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any 
be blameless, &c.; for a bishop must be blameless, as 
the steward of God," &c. We may then perceive 
why he speaks of a number of bishops at Philippi, 
and a number also at Ephesus; and, in the same 
breath, calls the latter alternately bishops and elders ; 
and, on this principle, we may see no less plainly why 
the apostle Peter said : — " The elders which are 
among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a 
witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a par- 
taker of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the 
flock of God that is among you, taking the oversight 
thereof, (i^Kry-orowrs;) — actiug as bishops among them, 
not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, 
but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over 
God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." 
And, accordingly, it is remarkable that the word 
^o/^avars, uscd iu the sccoud verse of the last quotation, 
is derived from a word signifying a shepherd, and 
carries with it the ideas of guiding, protecting, and 
ruling, as well as feeding in appropriate spiritual 
pastures. (See Matthew ii. 6, and Revelation ii. 27.) 


This view of the subject takes away all embarrass- 
ment and difficulty in reference to the titles given to 
the primitive officers of the church. There is abun- 
dant evidence that every class of elders, as well those 
who commonly officiated as rulers only, as those who 
both ruled and taught, bore the names of bishops, 
inspectors, overseers, during the apostolic age, and 
for some time afterwards. This was a name most 
significantly expressive of their appropriate function, 
which was to overlook, direct, and rule each particular 
church, for its edification. How long this title con- 
tinued to be applied to all the elders indiscriminately, 
it is not easy to say. It was probably in the church, 
as it was known to have been in the synagogue. All 
the rulers of the synagogue were popularly called 
archisynagogi, as is evident from several passages in 
the New Testament ; but sometimes, as we learn from 
the same source, this title was applied, by way of 
eminence, to the presiding or principal ruler of each 
synagogue. So with regard to the title of inspector, 
overseer, or bishop, we know that all the elders of 
Ephesus (Acts xx. 17, 28,) were indiscriminately 
called bi.shops by the inspired Paul. We know too, 
that the same apostle recognizes a plurality of bishops 
or overseers in the church at Philippi, (chapter i. 1,) 
who could not possibly have been prelates, as Episco- 
palians themselves allow. We find, moreover, the 
same " chiefest of the apostles," giving the titles of 
bishop and elder, without discrimination, to all the 
church rulers directed to be ordained in Ephesus and 
Crete, as the epistles to Timothy and Titus plainly 
evince. In those pure and simple times no difficulty 
arose from this general application of a plain and ex- 
pressive title. For more than a hundred years after 
the apostolic age, this title continued to be frequently 
applied in the same manner, as the writings of Cle- 
mens Roman us, Hermas, Irenteus, and others, amply 
testify. We find them not only speaking of the elders 
as bearing rule in each church, but also caUing the 


same men alternately bishops and elders, as was evi- 
dently done in apostolic times. In process of time, 
however, this title which was originally considered as 
expressive of duty and labour, rather than of honour, 
became gradually appropriated to the principal elder, 
who usually presided in preaching and ordering the 
course of the public service. Not only so, but as a 
worldly and ambitious spirit gained ground, he who 
bore this title began to advance certain peculiar claims; 
first, those of a stated chairman, president, or moder- 
ator ; and, finally, those of a new order, or grade of 
office. That there was an entire change in the appli- 
cation of the title of bishop, not long after the apostolic 
age, a majority of our Episcopal brethren themselves 
allow. They grant, that in the New Testament this 
title is given indiscriminately to all who were intrusted 
with the instruction and care of the church. But 
that, in the succeeding period, it was gradually re- 
served to the highest order. In other words, they 
grant that the title bishop had a very different meaning 
in the second and third centuries, from that which it 
had borne in the first. Now, even conceding to them 
that this change took place earlier than the best 
records give us reason to believe, it may be asked, 
why make such a change at all? Why not continue 
to get along with the language which the inspired 
apostles had authorised by their use ? Why insidiously 
make an old title, which was familiar to the popular 
ear, signify something very different from what it had 
been wont to signify from the beginning; and thus 
palm a new office with an old name on the people ? 
Were there no other fact established by the early 
writers than this, it would be quite sufficient to con- 
vince us that the apostolic government of the church 
Avas early corrupted by human ambition. 



That which is not found in the Bible, however fully 
and strongly it may be enjoined elsewhere, cannot be 
considered as binding on the church. On the other 
hand, what is plainly found in the word of God, though 
it be no where else taught, we are bound to receive. 
Accordingly, if we find ruling elders in the New Tes- 
tament, as it is firmly believed we have done — it 
matters not, as to their substantial warrant, how soon 
after the apostolic age, they fell into disuse. Still if 
we can discover traces of them in the early uninspired 
writings of the Christian church, it will certainly add 
something to the chain of proof which we possess in 
their favour. It will add strong presumption to that 
which is our decisive rule. Let us, then, see whether 
the early fathers say any thing which can be fairly 
considered as alluding to this class of church officers. 

But before we proceed to examine these witnesses 
in detail, it may not be improper to make two general 
remarks, which ought to be kept steadily in view 
through the whole of this branch of our subject. 

The first is, — that we must be on our guard against 
the ambiguous use of the title elder, as it is expressed 
in different languages. When we look into the writ- 
ings of the Christian fathers who lived during the first 
two hundred years afier Christ, all of whom, if we 
except Tertullian, wrote in Greek, we find them gen- 


erally using the word ^^ttr^t^Ti^o; to designate an elder. 
Now this is precisely the same word which the advo- 
cates of Prelacy apply to the " second order," as they 
express it, of their " clergy," always called by them 
" presbyters.'* And when Presbyterians translate 
this word by the term elder, * and consider it as used, 
at least in many cases, to designate that class of officers 
which forms the subject of this essay, they are consid- 
ered and represented, by some illiterate and narrow 
minded persons, as chargeable with an unfair, if not a 
deceptive use of a term. This charge is manifestly 
unjust. It will never be repeated by any candid 
individual, who is acquainted with the Greek language. 
This is the very word which is almost invariably used 
by the translators of the Septuagint, all through the 
Old Testament, to designate elders who confessedly 
had nothing to do with preaching. In truth, it was a 
general title of office among the Jews, and it was a 
general title of office among the early Christians, as 
any one will immediately perceive by a candid perusal 
of the New Testament. And the fact is, that if Pres- 
byterians wrote in Greek, they would of course, 
employ this very term to express their ruling elder. 
The word " elder " is the natural, literal, and, we may 
almost say, the only proper term by which to express 
the meaning of the Greek title Trf^sSvrs^os. And even 
when we meet in some of the early fathers with passa- 
ges in which the officers of the church are enumerated 
as consisting of ^-ria-xcroi, u^kt^uti^oi, nKi AiaKovoi, it may be 
said, with perfect truth, that if Presbyterians, at 
the present day, were called upon to enumerate the 
standing officers in all their churches, which are com- 
pletely organized agreeably to their public standards, 
they would, beyond all doubt, if they used the Greek 

* It is worthy of notice that whenever the word -r^itrQvn^oi 
occurs in the New Testament, our translation, when an eccle- 
siastical officer is meant, always renders it elder. So far as is 
recollected, this is invariably done. 


language, represent their regular ecclesiastical officers 
as everywhere consisting of E'r/(r;so5ra;, n^io-Svrs^oi, xai ^laKovof, 
meaning by i-yriffKOTo; a parochial pastor or overseer, in 
which sense Prelatists themselves acknowledge the 
title to have been generally used in the apostolic age ; 
and meaning by the title ^r^so-^t/rs^a?, a ruling elder, 
which we have no doubt has been shown, and will 
be yet further shown to be, in many cases, the proper 
interpretation of the word. When, therefore, we 
thus translate the word in some of the following quo- 
tations, let no one feel as if we were taking an 
unwarrantable liberty. No imputation of this kind, 
assuredly, will be made by any reader of competent 
learning to judge in the case. 

The second preliminary remark is, that perhaps no 
class of church officers would be, on the whole, so likely 
to fall into disrepute after the apostolic age, and be 
discontinued, as that which is now under consideration. 
We know that the purity of the church began to decline 
immediately after the apostolic age. Nay, while the 
apostles were still alive, "the mystery of iniquity" had 
already begun " to work." Corruption, both in faith 
and practice, had crept in, a«d, in some places, to an 
alarming and most distressing extent. And after their 
departure, it soon " came in like a flood." The disci- 
pline of the church became relaxed, and after a while, 
in a great measure prostrated. The hints dropped by 
several writers in the second century, and the strongly 
coloured and revolting pictures given by Origen and 
Cyprian of the state of church in their own times, 
present a view of this subject which needs no comment. 
Now, in such a state of things, was it not natural that 
the office of those whose peculiar duty it was to inspect 
the members of the church, to take cognizance of all 
their aberrations, and to maintain a pure and scrip- 
tural discipline, should be unpopular, and finally as 
much as possible crowded out of public view, discred- 
ited, and gradually laid aside. 

But this is not all. Sliortly after the apostolic age. 


several ecclesiastical officers, as is confessed on all hands, 
were either invented or modified, so as to suit the 
declining spirituality of the times. To mention but a 
single example. The deacons began to claim higher 
dignity and powers. Sub -deacons were introduced to 
perform some of those functions which had originally 
belonged to deacons, but which they had become too 
proud to perform. Was it either unnatural, then, or 
improbable — since things of a similar kind actually 
took place — that in the course of the undeniable degen- 
eracy which was now reigning, the ruling elders of the 
church should find the employment to which they had 
been originally destined, irksome both to themselves 
and others ; by no means adapted to gratify either the 
love of gain, or the love of pleasure which seemed to 
be the order of the day; — and that both parties gra- 
dually united in dropping the inspection and discipline 
once committed to their hands, and in turning their 
attention to objects more adapted to the taste of 
ambitious worldly minded churchmen. And this 
result would be, at once, more likely to occur, and 
might have occured with less opposition and noise, if 
we suppose as some learned men have done, that rul- 
ing and teaching elders, from the beginning, not only 
both bore the general name of elders, but were both 
set apart to their office with the same formalities. If 
this were the case, then there was nothing to change, 
in virtually discarding the office of ruling elder, but 
gradually to neglect all their appropriate duties, and 
in an equally gradual manner to slide into the assump- 
tion of duties, and especially that of public preaching, 
which, in the primitive church, they had not been 
expected to perform. 

Keeping these things in mind, let us examine 
whether some, both of the early and the late fathers, do 
not express themselves in a manner which renders it 
probable, or rather certain, that they had in view the 
class of elders of which we are speaking. 

In the epistle of Clemens Romanus, who lived to- 


ward the close of the first century, to the church at 
Corinth, we find the worthy father remonstrating with 
the members of the church for having risen up against 
their elders, and thrust them out of office — perhaps for 
the very reason just hinted at — that they found their 
inspection and rule uncomfortable. Accordingly 
Clemens addresses the Corinthian Christians in the 
following manner: — " It is a shame, my beloved, yea, a 
very great shame, to hear that the most firm and ancient 
church of the Corinthians should be led, by one or 
twopersons, to rise up against their elders." — (^-^^sffSvrioov;,) 
Again ; " Let the flock of Christ enjoy peace with the 
elders [^^KrSvn^cov) that are set over it." Again ; " Do 
ye, therefore, who first laid the foundation of this sedi- 
tion, submit yourselves to your elders, and be instructed 
into repentance, bending the knee of your hearts ;" 
Epist. 47, 54, 57. 

In these extracts we find an entire coincidence with 
the language of the New Testament; a plain indication 
that in every church there was a plurality of elders; 
and a distinct recognition of the idea that these elders 
were rulers, in other words, held a station of authority 
and government over " the flock" of which they were 

In the epistles of Ignatius, who lived at the close of 
the first, and the beginning of the second century, we 
find much said about elders, (ir^so-gyrs^w.) The follow- 
ing is a specimen of the manner in which he speaks 
of them, in connection with the other classes of church 
officers. " Obey your bishop and the presbytery {the 
eldership) with an entire affection ;" epistle to the 
Ephesians, 20. " I exhort you that you study to do 
all things in a divine concord : your bishop presiding 
in the place of God, your elders in the place of the 
council of the apostles, and your deacons, most dear 
to me, being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus 
Christ." Again, " Do nothing without your bishop 
and elders;" epistle to the Magnesians, 6, 7. " It is, 
therefore, necessary, that, as ye do, so without your 


bishop you should do nothing; also be ye subject to your 
elders, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ our hope." 
Again, " Let all reverence the deacons as Jesus Christ, 
and the Bishop as the Father, and the elders as the 
sanhedrim of God, and the college of the apostles." 
Again, " Fare ye well in Jesus Christ ; being subject 
to your bishop as to the command of God, and so 
likewise to the presbytery, (or eldership;") epistle to 
the Trallians, 2, 3, 13. " Which also I salute in the 
blood of Jesus Christ, which is our eternal and unde- 
filed joy; especially if they are at unity with the 
bishop and elders, who are with him, and the deacons 
appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ. 
Again, " There is one cup, and one altar, and also 
one bishop, together with his eldership, and the 
deacons, my fellow-servants." Again, " I cried whilst 
I was among you ; I spake with a loud voice, attend 
to the bishop, to the eldership, and to the deacons ;" 
epistle to the Philadelphians, Pref 4, 7. " See that ye 
ail follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ the Father, 
and the presbytery (or eldership) as the apostles; and 
reverence the deacons as the command of God." 
Again, " It is not lawful v/ithout the bishop either to 
baptize or to celebrate the holy communion." Again, 
"I salute your very worthy bishop ; and your venerable 
eldership, and your deacons, my fellow-servants;" 
episde to the Smyrneans, 8, 12. " My soul be security 
for them who submit to their bishop, with their elders 
and deacons ;" epistle to Polycarp, 6. 

The friends of Prelacy have long been in the habit 
of insisting much on these and similar quotations from 
Ignatius, as affording decisive support to their system. 
But I must think that their confidence in this witness 
has not the smallest solid ground.* For, let it be 

* Intellig-ent readers are no doubt aware that the genuineness 
of the epistles of If»-natius has been called in question by a great 
majority of Protestant divines, and is not only really but deeply 
questionable. All inquiry, however, on this sul ject is waived 
for the present. 


remembered that these several epistles were directed, 
not to large prelatical dioceses, but to single parishes 
or congregations ; that in each of these churches there 
are represented as being a bishop, a presbytery, or 
bench of elders, and a plurality of deacons; and, 
therefore, that it is parochial episcopacy, and not 
diocesan or prelatical, that is here described. And, 
accordingly, we learn from different parts of these 
epistles, that in the time of Ignatius, each bishop had 
under his pastoral charge, but " one altar," " one 
cup," " one loaf," i. e. one communion table; and 
that the people under his care habitually came together 
to " one place," — in other words, formed " one 

Agreeably to this view of the subject, it is worthy 
of notice, that Ignatius calls the presbyters or elders 
of each church which he addresses, the ffwih^tov etov, that 
is, the Sanhedrim, or council of God. But with 
what propriety could he designate them by this title — 
the popular title of a well known Jewish ecclesiastical 
court, if they did not constitute a corresponding court 
in the Christian church, and if the whole body of 
ecclesiastical officers which he addressed from time to 
time were not the rulers of a single flock? The 
truth is, the whole language of Ignatius, in reference 
to the officers of whom he speaks, is strictly Presby- 
terian, and cannot be considered as affording counte- 
nance to any other system, without doing violence to 
its natural import. 

Accordingly, it is worthy of notice, that the learned 
Mr. Joseph Mede, a very able and zealous divine of 
the Church of England, and a decisive advocate of 
diocesan Episcopacy, gives a representation of the 
state of things in the time of Ignatius, which, in 
substance, falls in with our account of the character 
of the churches addressee by that father. " It should 
seem," says he, " that in those first times, before 
dioceses were divided into those lesser and subordinate 
churches, which we call parishes, and presbyters 


assigned to them, they had only one altar to a church, 
taking church for the company or corporation of the 
faithful, united under one bishop or pastor, and that 
was in the city or place where the bishop had his see 
and residence. Unless this were so, whence came it 
else, that a schismatical bishop was said, constituere, 
or collocare aliud altare ? And that a bishop and an 
altar are made correlatives?"* 

The same fact is asserted by Bishop Stillingfleet, in 
his sermon against separation. " Though, when the 
churches increased," says he, " the occasional meet- 
ings were frequent in several places, yet still there was 
but one church, and one altar, and one baptistery, 
and one bishop, with many presbyters attending him. 
Which is so plain in antiquit}^, as to the churches 
planted by the apostles themselves, that none but a 
great stranger to the history of the church can call it 
in question. It is true, after some time, in the great 
cities, they had distinct places allotted, and presbyters 
fixed among them; and such allotments were called 
Tituli at Rome, Laurce at Alexandria, ^wA parishes in 
other places. But these were never thought then to 
be new churches, or to have any independent govern- 
ment in themselves, but were all in subjection to the 
bishop and his college of presbyters, of which multi- 
tudes of examples might be brought from the most 
authentic testimonies of antiquity, if a thing so evident 
needed any proof at all. And yet this distribution, 
(into distinct Tituli) even in cities, was looked on as 
so uncommon in those elder times, that Epiphanius 
takes notice of it as an extraordinary thing at Alex- 
andria, and, therefore, it is probably supposed that 
there was no such thing in all the cities of Crete in 
his time. 

That the elders spoken of so frequently by Ignatius, 
were all the officers of a single parish or congregation, 
is also evident, not only from the title which he gives 

* Discourse on Church Government, p, 48. 


to the body of elders, but also from the duties which 
he represents as incumbent on the bishop with whom 
these elders were connected. It is represented as the 
duty of the bishop to be present with his flock when- 
ever they came together, to conduct their prayers, 
and to preside in all their religious assemblies. He is 
spoken of as the only parson who was authorized, in 
ordinary cases, to administer Baptism and the Lord's 
Supper; as the person by whom all marriages among 
the people of his charge were celebrated ; whose duty 
it was to be personally acquainted with all his flock ; 
who was bound to take notice, with his own eye, of 
those who were absent from public worship ; to attend 
to the wants of the widows and all the poor of his 
congregation ; to seek out all by name, and not to 
overlook even the servant men and maids under his 
care ; to instruct the children ; to reconcile differences, 
and, in short, to attend to all those objects in detail, 
which are considered as devolving on every faithful 
parish minister. Now, all these representations so 
plainly apply to the pastor of a single church, and 
are so evidently impossible to be realized by any other 
person, that it would be a waste of time, and an insult 
to common sense, to attempt a more formal establish- 
ment of the position. 

But if the bishop of Ignatius be a simple parochial 
bishop, in other words, the ordinary pastor of a con- 
gregation; and if the presbytery or bench of elders 
of which he so frequently speaks, are to be considered 
as all belonging to a single parish, then we can scarcely 
avoid the conclusion, that they were not all of them 
employed in public preaching, but that their principal 
employment was, as assistants of the pastor, and in 
union with him, to discharge the duties of inspectors 
and rulers of the church. 

Again, Polycarp, writing to the church of Phillipi, 

most evidently and unequivocally conveys the idea, 

that there was a plurality of presbyters (or elders,) 

. not only in his own church, but also in that to which 


he wrote, and that they were the regularly appointed 
ecclesiastical rulers. He addressed them thus : " Let 
the elders be tender and merciful, compassionate to- 
wards all, reclaiming those which have fallen into 
errors; visiting all that are weak; not negligent of 
the widow and the orphan, and of him that is poor, 
but ever providing what is honest in the sight of God 
and men ; abstaining from all wrath, respect of per- 
sons, and unrighteous judgment ; avoiding covetous- 
ness ; not hastily believing a report against any man ; 
not rigid in judgment, knowing that we are all faulty 
and obnoxious to judgment." * 

Cyprian in his 29th epistle, directed " to his breth- 
ren, the elders and deacons," expresses himself in the 
following terms : — 

" You are to take notice that I have ordained 
Saturus a reader, and the confessor Optatus a sub- 
deacon, whom we had all before agreed to place in 
the rank and degree next to that of the clergy. Upon 
Easter day, we made one or two trials of Saturus, in 
reading, when we were approving our readers before 
the teaching presbyters, and then appointed Optatus 
from among the readers, to be a teacher of the hearers." 
On this passage, the Rev. Mr. Marshall, the Episcopal 
translator and commentator of Cyprian, remarks, — 
" It is hence, I think, apparent, that all presbyters 
were not teachers, but assisted the bishop in other 
parts of his office." And Bishop Fell, another editor 
and commentator of Cyprian, remarks on the same 
passage in the following words : — " Inter Presbyteros 
rector es et doctor es olim distinxisse videtur divus 
Paulus ;" 1 Tim. v. 17. — i. e. St. Paul appears to have 
made a distinction in ancient times, between teaching 
and ruling elders, in 1 Timothy v. 17. Here two 
learned Episcopal divines explicitly acknowledged the 
distinction between teaching and ruling elders in the 
primitive church ; and one of them an eminent bishop, 

* Epistle to the Philippians, Sect. 6. 


not only allows that Cyprian referred to this distinc- 
tion, but also quotes as an authority for it, the principal 
text which Presbyterians adduce for the same purpose. 

There is another passage in Cyprian's 40th epistle, 
which the very learned authors of the Jus Divinum 
Regiminis Ecclesiastici * consider as containing an 
allusion to the office in question, and which may not 
be unworthy of notice. At the time when Cyprian 
wrote this letter, he was in a state of exile from his 
church. It is directed to the elders, deacons, and 
people at large, of his congregation, and contains an 
expression of his wish, that one Numidicus should be 
reckoned, or have a place assigned him w ith the pres- 
byters, or elders of that church, and sit with the clergy. 
And yet it would appear that this was only as a ruling, 
and not as a teaching elder that he was to be received 
by them; for Cyprian subjoins: — " He shall be pro- 
moted, if God permit, to a more distinguished place 
in his rehgion, (or his religious function) when, by 
the protection of Providence, 1 shall return." Here, 
it seems, the presbytery or eldership in that church 
were directed immediately to receive, or set apart, 
this man to the office of elder among them ; and their 
absent pastor or bishop, promises that when he re- 
turns Numidicus shall be promoted to a still higher 
office. Now, the only supposable promotion in this 
case, was to the office of a teaching elder. That the 
passage is very naturally susceptible of this construc- 
tion, none will deny. At any rate, it is adopted by 
some of the most mature divines and scholars in 
England, of the seventeenth century, however uncere- 
moniously it may have been since rejected by less 
competent judges. 

Accordingly, it is worthy of notice, that the famous 
Henr}^ Dodwell, one of the most learned and zealous 
Episcopal writers in the British empire, of the seven- 
teenth century, notwithstanding his determined oppo- 

* Jus Divinum, &c. p. 171, 172. 

F 2 


sition to every thing peculiarly Presbyterian ; yet, In 
his celebrated Dissertations on Cyprian, freely grants^ 
that, in the days of that father there were elders or 
presbyters in the Christian church, who did not preach. 
He represents this fact as undoubtedly taught by 
Cyprian in his epistles, and particularly refers for 
proof, to the first of the passages cited in a preceding 
page. Nay, he expresses a full persuasion that a 
similar fact existed in the apostolic church, and quotes 
1 Timothy v. 17, as a decisive confirmation of his 
opinion.* The notion, then, that all testimony sup- 
posed to be derived from Cyprian in favour of non- 
preaching elders, is a dream of modern sectaries, for 
the purpose of carrying a favourite point in church 
government, is plainly not tenable. Some of the best 
talents and most mature learning in the Christian 
church, without any leaning to Presbyterian opinions, 
have decisively interpreted that father as setting forth 
such a class of elders. 

Hippolytus, who was nearly contemporary with 
Cyprian, repeatedly speaks of these elders as existing, 
and as exercising authority in his day. In his tract 
" Against the Heresy of a certain Noetus," he states 
in the beginning of the work, that Noetus being 
charged with certain heretical opinions, the " elders 
(^^i<r€uTi^ot) cited him to appear, and examined him in 
the presence of the church;" that Noetus having at 
first denied, but afterwards openly avowed the opinions 
imputed to him, " the elders summoned him a second 
time, condemned him, and cast him out of the church." 
It seems, then, that in the third century, there were 
elders, whose duty it was to examine, try, and excom- 
municate such members of the church as were found 
delinquent with respect to either doctrine or morals. 
In this case, a part, at least, of the trial, seems to 
have been conducted " in the presence of the church," 

* Dissertationes Cyprianicae, vi. sect. 4, 5, 6. 


of which they were rulers ; but still the trial, convic- 
tion, and excommunication were by the elders. 

Origen who, it is well known, flourished a little 
more than two hundred years after Christ, in the 
following passage has a plain reference to the class 
of officers under consideration : — " There are some 
rulers appointed whose duty it is to inquire concerning 
the manners and conversation of those who are ad- 
mitted, that they may debar from the congregation 
such as commit filthiness." * This passage is replete 
with important and conclusive testimony. It not only 
proves that, in the time of Origen, there were rulers 
in the Christian church, but that the chief and peculiar 
business of these rulers was precisely that which we 
assign to ruling elders, viz. inspecting the members of 
the church, watching over all its spiritual interests, 
admitting to its communion those who, on inquiry, 
were found worthy, and debarring those who were in 
any way immoral. It is perfectly evident from this 
passage alone, that, in the days of this learned father, 
the government and discipline of the church were 
not conducted by the body of the communicants at 
large, but by a bench of rulers. 

The same important fact is also indubitably implied 
in the language of Origen in another place. In his 
seventh Homily on Joshua, he speaks of one who, 
" having been thrice admonished, and being unwilling 
to repent, was cut off from the church by its rulers." 
Those who cut off then, from the communion of the 
church, and restored the penitent, in the time of Ori- 
gen, were not the body of the communicants, but a 
bench of elders. This great historical fact is, more- 
over, explicitly established, as having existed in the 
third century, (the age of Origen,) by the Magde- 
burgh Centuriators, a body of very learned Lutheran 
divines, contemporary with Melancthon, and whose 
authority as ecclesiastical historians, is deservedly 

* Contra Celsum. Lib. iii. p. 142. Edit. Cantab. 1677, 


high. " The right," say they, " of deciding respect- 
ing such as were to be excommunicated, or of receiv- 
ing upon their repentance, such as had fallen, was 
vested in the elders of the church.* 

In the Gesta Purgationis Cceciliani et Felicis^ pre- 
served at the end of Optatus, and commonly referred 
to the beginning of the fourth century, we meet 
with the following enumeration of church officers : 
" Presbyteri, Diaconi et Seniores" — i. e. " The pres- 
byters, the deacons and the elders." And a little 
after is added : — " Adhihite conclericos, et Senior es 
plebis, ecclesiasticos vivos, et inquirant diligenter 
quce, sint istce dissentiones," — i. e. " Call the fellow- 
clergymen and elders of the people, ecclesiastical 
men, and let them inquire diligently what are these 
dissentions.'' In that assembly, likewise, several 
letters were produced and read ; one addressed, Clero 
et Senioribus, — i. e, " to the clergy and the elders ;" 
and another, Clericis et Senioribus, — i. e. "to the 
clergymen and the elders." Here, then, is a class of 
men expressly recognized as ecclesiastical men, or 
church officers ; who are styled elders ; who were 
constituent members of a solemn ecclesiastical assembly 
or judicatory ; who were expressly charged with in- 
quiring into matters connected with the discipline of 
the church; and yet carefully distinguished from the 
clergy, with whom they met, and officially united in 
the transaction of business. If these be not the elders 
of whom we are in search, we may give up all the rules 
of evidence. 

Some, indeed, have said, that the phrase ecclesias- 
ticos viros, in one of the pavSsages last cited, was not 
intended to designate church officers at all ; that this 
phrase was early introduced to distinguish " men of 
the church," — i. e. Christians from Pagans, and otiier 
enemies of Christ; and that it probably had some 
such meaning, and nothing more, in the ancient 

* Cent. iii. Cap. vii. p. 151. 


records from which the foregoing extracts are made. 
It is freely granted that the phrase, ecclesiastici viri, 
was for a time emplo^^ed in the Christian church, as 
well as by the surrounding heathen, in the sense, and 
for the purpose just mentioned. That is, w^hen 
Christians were spoken of, as distinguished from Jews, 
infidels, heretics, &c. they were called ecclesiastical 
men, importing that they did not belong to Jewish 
synagogues, or heathen temples, or to heretical sects ; 
but were adherents, or members of the church of 
Christ. But it is well known that this language was 
never employed in this sense among Christians them- 
selves, when distinguishing one class of their own body 
from another. When used in this case, it always de- 
signated men in ecclssiastical office.* Besides, in the 
passage before us, there can be no doubt that the 
phrase under consideration was used in the latter 
sense, and not in the former. For the ecclesiastical 
men, in these passages are represented as joined with 
the clergy in ecclesiastical functions; especially as 
directed to investisjate and settle ecclesiastical dissen- 
sions. Surely this could neither be required nor ex- 
pected of men who sustained no office, and were of 
course, invested with no authority in the church. 

Another objection which has been confidently lU'ged 
against that construction w^iich we have put upon the 
extracts from the Gesta Purgationis, &c. is that the 
seniors or elders, of which they speak, are mentioned 
after deacons, and, therefore, are to be considered 
as inferior to them. " Now," say these objectors, 
" the ruling elders of the presbyterian church are 
always considered and represented, by the advocates 
of that denomination, as above deacons, ratlier than 
below them, on the scale of ecclesiastical precedence. 
Of course, the senior here spoken of, cannot belong to 
the class of officers for which they contend." To this 
objection it is sufficient to reply, that the mere order 

* Bingham's Origines Ecclesiasticte, Book i. chapter i. section 8, 


in which titles are arranged, cannot be considered as 
decisive of the relative rank with which these titles are 
connected. At once to illustrate and confirm this re- 
mark, a single example will suffice. In the epistle of 
Ignatius, when he speaks of bishops, or pastors, 
elders and deacons, no intelligent reader supposes 
that he means to represent the second and third of 
these classes of offices as inferior to the first. Yet, in 
his epistle to the Trallians, he speaks thus: — " Let all 
reverence the deacons as Jesus Christ; and the bishop 
as the Father ; and the presbyters as the sanhedrim 
of God, and the college of the apostles." This may 
argue carelessness or haste in writing; or it may 
argue a mind in the writer, less intent on ecclesiasti- 
cal precedence than on more important matters ; 
but it surely cannot be considered as deciding the 
relative standing of the different officers of whom he 

Besides, let it be recollected, that the date of these 
Gesta was about the year of Christ 303, when the 
office of ruling elder, if we may credit the very ex- 
plicit testimony of Ambrose, which will be stated pre- 
sently, was going gradually out of use. If so, nothing 
was more natural than that the writers and speakers 
of that day should be disposed to throw it on the back 
ground, and rather degrade than advance its appro- 
priate rank in the scale of ecclesiastical honour. 

There is also a passage in Optatus, of the African 
church, who flourished a little after the middle of the 
fourth century, which corroborates the foregoing 
quotations. It is as follows: — " The church had many 
ornaments of gold and silver, which she could neither 
bury in the earth, nor carry away with her, which she 
committed to the elders, ( Senioribus, ) as to faithful 
persons."* There can scarcely be a doubt that these 
were not mere aged persons, but official men ; and, 
especially as we know, from the writings of Cyprian, 

* Optat, Lib. i. p. 41. edit. Paris, 1631. 


who resided in the same country, that there were such 
officers in the African church, a few years before. 

Ambrose who hved in the fourth century,* in his 
commentary on 1 Timothy v. 1, has the following 
passage : " For, indeed, among all nations old age is 
honourable. Hence it is that the synagogue, and 
afterwards the church, had elders, without whose 
counsel nothing was done in the church; which by 
what negligence it grew into disuse I know not, un- 
less, perhaps, by the sloth, or rather by the pride of 
the teachers, while they alone wished to appear some- 
thing." The great body of the Prelatists, as well as 
some others, have laboured hard to divest this passage 
of its plain and pointed testimony in favour of the 
office of ruling elder. They insist upon it that the 
pious father had no reference whatever to ecclesiastical 
officers, but only to aged persons, and that he meant 
to say nothing more than that, formerly, in the 
synagogue, and afterwards in the church, there were 
old men, whom it was customary to consult ; which 
practice, however, at the time in which he wrote, was 
generally laid aside. This perversion of an obvious 
meaning, is really so strange and extravagant, that the 
formality of a serious refutation seems scarcely neces- 
sary. Can any reflecting man believe that Hilary 
designed only to inform his readers that in the Jewish 
synagogues there were actually persons who had 
attained a considerable age ; that this was also after^ 
wards the case in the Christian church ; and that 
these aged persons were generally consulted ? This 
would have been a sage remark indeed ! Was there 
ever a community of any extent, either ecclesiastical 
or civil, which did not include some aged persons ? 
Or was there ever a state of society, or an age of the 

* It is not forgotten that 1 jarned men have generally consi- 
dered the real name of this writer as Hilary. Yet as the name 
of Ambrose is more frequently given to him, especially by many 
writers hereafter to be quoted, the latter name will be more 
intelligible, and therefore, more convenient. 


world, in which the practice of consulting the aged 
and experienced had fallen into disuse ? That think- 
ing, candid minds, should be able to satisfy themselves 
with such a gloss, is truly wonderful. It is certainly 
no argument in favour of this construction of the 
language of Ambrose, that he prefaces his statement 
respecting the synagogue and the church, by remark- 
ing, that " among all nations old age is honourable.'' 
Surely no remark could be more natural or appropriate 
when he was about to state, that from the earliest 
period of the Christian chmxh, and long before in the 
synagogue, all their affairs had been managed by 
colleges of elders, (a title importing a kind of homage 
to age and experience, ) without whose council nothing 
was done. 

But there is a clause in this extract from Ambrose, 
which precludes all doubt that he intended to allude 
to a class of church officers, and not merely to old 
age. It is this : — " Which by what negligence it 
grew into disuse, I know not, unless, perhaps, by the 
sloth, or rather by the pride of the teachers, who 
wished alone to appear something." It is very con- 
ceivable and obvious that both the pride and the sloth 
of the teachers, or teaching elders, should render them 
willing to get rid of a bench of officers of equal power 
with themselves, as rulers in the church, and, con- 
sequently able to control their wishes in cases of dis- 
cipline. But it cannot easily be conceived why either 
sloth or pride should render any so particularly averse 
to all consultation with the aged and experienced, in 
preference to the young, on the affairs of the church: 
especially if these aged persons bore no office, and 
there was of course, no official obligation to be 
governed by their advice, as the gloss under considera- 
tion supposes. It being evident, then, that a class of 
officers was here intended, the question arises, what 
class of presbyters, or elders, was that which had 
grown into disuse in the fourth century ? Not teach- 
ing presbyters, surely; for every one knows that that 


class of Presbyters had not become obsolete in Am- 
brose's time. His own writings amply attest the re- 
verse. And every one also knows that this class of 
church officers hag never been laid aside, or even 
diminished in number, to the present day. 

It is worthy of very particular notice here, also, as 
no small confirmation of the construction which we 
put upon the words of Ambrose, that all the most 
learned and able of the reformers, and a great num- 
ber of others, the most competent judges in such 
matters, from the reformation to the present time, 
have concurred in adopting the same construction, 
and have considered the worthy father as referring 
to a class of elders who held the place of inspectors 
and rulers in the church. Learned Lutherans, and 
Episcopalians, as well as Calvinists, almost without 
number, have united in the interpretation of this 
father, which we have given, with a degree of harmony 
truly wonderful, if that interpretation be entirely 
erroneous. Is it less likely that Luther, and Melanc- 
thon, and Bucer, and Whitgift, and Zanchius, and 
Peter Martyr, who had no sectarian or private views 
to serve, should be able cori-ectly to read and under- 
stand Ambrose, than that modern and more superficial 
scholars should be betrayed into a mistaken construc- 
tion, on the side in favour of which their feelings were 
strongly enlisted ? No disrespect whatever is intend- 
ed to the latter ; but it cannot be doubted that a great 
preponderancy of testimony, both as to numbers and 
competency, is on the side of the former. 

Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who also lived toward 
the close of the fourth century, often refers to this 
class of officers in his writings. Thus, in his work. 
Contra Cresconium Grammaticmn, lib. iii. cap. 56, he 
peaks of " Peregrinus^ Presbyter^ et Sejiiores E 
lesice Musticance regioais ;" — L e, " Peregrine, t^~ 
presbyter, and the elders of the church of the Mus "^ 
can district." And again, he addresses one of ^^" 
epistles intended for his church at Hippo, in "''^ 

G the 


following manner : — " Dileciissimis Fratrihus^ Clero^ 
SeniorUms et universce Plebi EcclesicB Hipponensis ;" 
Epist. 137, — i. e. " To the beloved brethren, the 
clergy, the elders, and all the people of the church at 
Hippo." There were some elders then, in the time of 
Augustine, whom he distinguishes from other presby- 
ters, and whom he also distinguishes from the clergy. 
And, lest any should suppose that the elders here 
spoken of were not officers, but mere private members 
of the church, he distinguishes them from the plehs 
universa of the church. Augustine, also, in another 
place, (De Verb. Dom, Serm. 19,) speaks thus: — " Cum 
oh errorem aliquem. a Senioribus arguuntur, et imputa- 
tur alicui de illis, cur ebrius fuerit ? cur res alienas 
pervaseritf^ &c. — . L e, "When they are reprehended 
for any error by the elders, and are upraided with 
having been drunk, or with having been guilty of 
theft, &c." Can any one doubt that Augustine is here 
speaking, not of mere aged persons, but of church 
officers, whose duty it was to inspect the morals of the 
members of the church, and to " upbraid," or reprove 
those who had been reprehensible in their deportment ? 
It would be easy to produce from the same father a 
number of other quotations equally to our purpose. 
But Bingham, in his Origines EcclesiasticcB Bishop 
Taylor, in his Episcopacy Asserted, and other learned 
Prelatists, have rendered this unnecessary, by making 
an explicit acknowledgment, that Augustine repeatedly 
mentions these seniors or elders, as belonging to other 
churches as well as his own, in his time ; and that the 
same kind of elders are frequently referred to by other 
writers, both before and after Augustine, as then ex- 
isting in the church ; as holding in it some kind of 
official station ; and yet as distinguished from clergy- 
men. It is true, indeed, that Bingham insists upon it 
that these were not ruling elders, in our sense of the 
word ; but that they held some kind of office in the church, 
and yet were not public preachers, he explicitly grants. 
We ask nothing more. This is quite sufficient for our 


The ancient work, entitled Apostolical Constitutions, 
although by no means, of Apostolical origin, was pro- 
bably composed sometime between the second and 
fifth centuries. The following significant and pointed 
rule, extracted from that work, will be considered by 
the intelligent reader as by no means equivocal in its 
aspect: — " To presbyters also, when they labour 
assiduously in the word and doctrine, let a double por- 
tion be assigned."* Here is, obviously, a distinction 
between presbyters who are employed in teaching, and 
those who were not so employed. To what duties the 
other devoted themselves is not stated; but it is 
evident that teaching made no part of their ordinary 
occupation. We may take for granted that their 
duty was to assist in the other spiritual concerns of 
the church, viz. in maintaining good order and dis- 
cipline. This is precisely the distinction which pres- 
byterians make, and which they believe to have been 
made in the primitive church. Accordingly the pres- 
byters, in the same relic of Christian antiquity, and 
in a subsequent part of the same chapter, are called 
" the counsellors of the bishop, or pastor ; and the 
Sanhedrim or senate of the church :" expressions which 
entirely harmonize with our views of the office of 
elder in the ancient church. 

To the same class of officers, Isodore of Hispala, 
who flourished in the sixth century, seems to allude, 
when, in giving directions as to the manner in which 
pastors should conduct their official instructions, he 
says : — Prius docendi sunt Seniores plebis, ut per eos 
infra positi facilius doceantur ;" — L e. " The elders of 
the people are first to be taught, that by them such as 
are placed under them, may be more easily instructed." 
Here again, these Seniores are evidently spoken of as 
church officers, who were set over the people, and yet 
occupied a station infe 'ior to that of the pastors, or 
public preachers. 

* Apostol Constit. lib. ii. cap. 28. 


Nor does the class of officers appear to have entirely 
ceased in the church at as late a period as that of 
Gregory the Great, who wrote in the latter part 
of the sixth century. In one of his epistles he gives 
the following direction : — " If any things should come 
to your ears concerning any clergyman, which may be 
justly considered as matter of offence, do not easily 
believe it ; but let truth be diligently investigated by 
the elders of the church, who may be at hand, and 
then, if the character of the act demand it, let the pro- 
per punishment fall on the offender."* 

Here there is evidently a very distinct reference to 
such a class of officers as that of which we are speak- 
ing. They are distinguished from clergymen ; and yet 
they are represented as ecclesiastical officers, to whom 
it properly pertained to investigate ecclesiastical 
offences ; and to give advice and direction in peculiarly 
delicate cases of discipline. At an earlier period of the 
church, indeed these elders, as well as all other classes 
of ecclesiastical men, were styled clergymen ; as we 
shall have occasion more fully to show liereafter : but 
from the fourth century and onward, elders of this 
class declined in numbers and in popularity, and not 
long afterwards were in a great measure laid aside, 
excepting by the humble and devoted witnesses of the 
truth, of whose testimony we shall speak in the next 

There is another species of evidence here worthy of 
notice. The representation which the fathers give of 
the manner in which the bishop or pastors and his 
elders were commonly seated, when the church was 
assembled, and during the solemnities of public wor- 
ship, afford very strong evidence that the mass of the 
elders were such as it is the object of this essay to 
establish. We are told by several of the early fathers, 
that when the church was convened for public worship, 

* Epistolge, lib. ii. epist. 19— quoted from the Politica 
Ecclesiastica of Voetius, par. ii. lib. ii. tract, iii. 


the bishop, or pastor, was commonly seated on the 
middle of a raised bench, or long semi-circular seat, at 
one end of the church ; that his elders were seated on 
each side of him, on the same seat, or on seats im- 
mediately adjoining, and commonly a little lower; and 
that the deacons commonly stood in front of this bench, 
ready to give any notice, to execute any order, or to 
perform any service which the pastor or elders might 
think proper to direct. This practice was evidently 
drawn from the Jewish synagogue. And, indeed, the 
order of assembling, sitting, and worship in the Chris- 
tian assemblies, for the first two or three centuries, so 
strikingly resembled that of the synagogue, that 
Christian churches were frequently contemned, and 
opposed as " synagogues in disguise."* 

This general fact is so well attested by the early 
Chistian writers, that it is unnecessary to detain the 
reader by any formal proof of it. Now, if in every 
church, when assembled in ordinary circumstances, 
there were present a pastor, overseer, or bishop, and a 
body of elders, sitting with him, and counselling and 
aiding him in the inspection and discipline of the 
church ; it is hardly necessary to say, that these elders 
could not all have been such presbyters as the friends 
of Prelacy contend for, as their " second order of 
clergy." The supposition is absurd. They could only 
have been such a bench of pious and venerable men, 
as were chiefly employed in overseeing and ruling ; and 
corresponding, substantially^, with the elders of thepres- 
byterian church. It is true, indeed, the advocates of 
Prelacy endeavour to persuade us that these presbyters 
were the stated preachers in the several congregations 
or worshipping assemblies which were, as they suppose, 
comprehended in the bishop's charge. But this 
supposition is wholly unsupported. Nay, it is directly 
contrary to the whole current of early testimony on 
this subject. The very same writers who imform us 

* Thorndike's Discourse on Religious Assemblies, p. 57. 
G 2 


that there were any presbyters at all in the Christian 
church within the first three hundred years, represent 
a plurality of them as sitting with the bishop or pastor, 
and present in every worshipping assembly. There is 
no system with which this statement can be made 
essentially to agree, but that which is received among 

Another strong argument in support of the doctrine 
of ruling elders, as drawn from the early fathers, is 
found in the abundant evidence which their writings 
furnish, that during the first three or four centuries 
after Christ, the great body of the Christian presby- 
ters did not ordinarily preach, indeed never, but by 
the special permission of the bishop or pastor. The 
following statement by the learned Bingham, in his 
Origines Eeelesiasticce book ii. chapter iii. section 4. 
will be found conclusive on this point: — 

" The like observation may be made upon the office 
of preaching. This was in the first place the bishop's 
office, which they commonly discharged themselves, 
especially in the African churches. Which is the 
reason we so frequently meet with the phrase, Trac- 
tante Episcopo the bishop preaching, in the writings 
of Cyprian. For then it was so much the office and 
custom of bishops to preach, that no presbyter was 
permitted to preach in their presence, till the time of 
St. Austin, who, whilst he was a presbyter was author- 
ized by Valerius, his bishop, to preach before him. 
But that, as Possidius, the writer of his life observes, 
was so contrary to the use and custom of the African 
churches, that many bishops were highly oflPended at 
it, and spoke against it ; till the consequence proved 
that such a permission was of good use and service to 
the church; and then several other bishops granted 
their presbyters power and privilege to preach before 
them. So that it was then a favour for the presbyters 
to preach in the presence of the bishops, and wholly at 
the bishop's discretion, whether they would permit 
them or not; and when they did preach, it was wholly 


potestate accepta^ by the power and authority oi' the 
bishops that appointed them. In the eastern churches 
presbyters were more commonly employed to preach, 
as Possidius observes, when he says Valerius brought 
the custom into Africa from their example. And St. 
Jerome intimates so much, when he complains of it as 
an ill custom only in some churches to forbid presby- 
ters to preach. Chrysostom preached several of his 
elaborate discourses at Antioch, while he was but a 
presbyter ; and so did Atticus at Constantinople : and 
the same is observed to have been granted to the pres- 
byters of Alexandria and Csesarea, in Cappadocia, 
and Cyprus, and other places. But still it was but a 
grant of the bishops ; and presbyters did it by their 
authority and commission. And whenever bishops 
saw just reason to forbid them, they had power to 
limit or withdraw their commission again : — as both 
Socrates and Sozomen testify, who say that at Alexan- 
dria presbyters were forbidden to preach from the 
time that Arius raised a disturbance in the church. 
Thus we see what a power bishops anciently challenged 
and exercised over presbyters in the common and 
ordinary offices of the church : particularly for preach- 
ing, bishops always esteemed it their office as much as 
any other." This statement is amply illustrated and 
confirmed by the learned author by numerous refer- 
ences to early writers of the highest reputation, which 
it is altogether unnecessary to recite, on account of the 
notoriety of the fact alleged. 

Can such a statement be contemplated a moment 
without perceiving, that the mass of the presbyters or 
elders, during the times here spoken of, were a very 
different class of officers from those commonly styled 
" presbyters," in the papacy afterwards, and in more 
modern prelatical churches ? The very circumstance 
of preaching making nc part of their ordinary func- 
tion ; nay, that, in ordinary cases, they were never 
allowed to do it, but in virtue of a special permission, 
which is evidently the import of the whole account, 


unless we make nonsense of it; places it beyond all 
doubt that the authority which they received at ordina- 
tion, did not really commission them to preach at all ; 
but that the bishop only w^as the commissioned 
preacher. This is exactly what presbyterians say. And 
if ever ruling elders or deacons among us, conduct 
social worship, and address the people in public, it is 
always under the direction of the bishop or pastor, who 
may encourage or arrest it as he pleases. It is vain to 
say, that presbyters in the Protestant Episcopal church 
at the present day cannot preach, or perform any 
ecclesiastical act without the bishop's permission. This 
is an idle evasion. The fact is, that every one knov.^s 
that their original ordination, as presbyters, or 
" priests," as they are called — conveys the full power 
to preach, administer sacraments, and perform every 
duty of the ordinary parochial ministration, statedly, 
and without any further let or impediment. The 
cases then, are wholly unlike. There were, evidently, 
in the days of Ignatius and Cyprian, of Chrysostom 
and Augustine, of Socrates and Sozomen, some elders 
who did not ordinarily preach, and were not considered 
as authorised to engage in this part of the public ser- 
vice, without a special permission ; and who stood, not 
exactly, indeed, but very much on the same ground, as 
to this matter, with the elders of our denomination. 

The truth is, some of the very same writers who 
inform us that elders and deacons were not ordinarily 
allowed to preach during the first three or four cen- 
turies, also inform us, that laymen, in cases of 
necessity, might preach by the bishop's permission. 
This at once illustrates and strengthens the presbyterian 
argument. For the same authority which might give 
a special permission in each case, or a general permis- 
sion, for a time, to an elder or deacon to preach : 
which permission, it seems, might be revoked at plea- 
sure, without touching the official standing of the in- 
dividual, much less deposing him from office ; — might 
also authorize the merest layman in the whole parish 


to perform the same service, whenever it was judged 
expedient to give the license. 

The truth of the matter seems to have been this. 
A large majority of the officers called elders, in the 
three first centuries, were, no doubt, ruling elders — or- 
dained, it is probable, in the same manner with the 
teaching elders, — i. e. with " the laying on of hands," 
and the same external solemnity in every respect. 
They were not qualified, and were not expected, when 
ordained, to be preachers; but were selected, on 
account of their piety, gravity, prudence, and experi- 
ence, to assist in inspection and government. When, 
however, the bishop or pastor, who was the stated 
preacher, was sick, or absent, he might direct a ruling 
elder to take his place on a single occasion, or for a 
few Sabbaths. But this function made no part of their 
stated work ; and they seldom engaged in it. After a 
while, however, these elders, like the bishops on 
the one hand, and the deacons on the other, began to 
aspire ; were more and more frequently permitted to 
preach ; until, at length, non-preaching elders were 
chiefly banished from the church. As this was a 
gradual thing, they were, of course, retained in some 
churches longer than others. They were, probably, 
first laid aside in large cities, where ambition was most 
prevalent, laxity of morals most indulged, and strict 
discipline most unpopular. In this way things pro- 
ceeded, until this class of officers was almost wholly 
lost sight of in the Christian community. 

One more testimony, by no means unimportant, of 
the existence of this office in the primitive church, is 
to be found in the Rev. Dr. Buchanan's account of the 
Syrian Christians, contained in his Asiatic Hesearches. 
It will be borne in mind that the learned and pious 
author considers those Christians as having settled in 
the East, within the first three centuries after Christ, 
before the corruptions of the Church of Rome had 
been introduced, and when the original simplicity of 
gospel order had been but in a small degree invaded. 


Separating from the Western church at that early pe- 
riod, and remaining for many centuries, almost wholly 
secluded from the rest of the world, they were found 
in a great measure free from the innovations and super- 
stitions of the Papacy. Now, if ruling elders had any 
existence in the Christian church within the first three 
hundred years, as Ambrose expressly declares they had, 
we might expect to find the Syrian Christians, in 
their seclusion, retaining some traces at least of this 
office in their churches. Accordingly, Dr. Buchanan, 
in describing the circumstances of a visit which he paid 
one of the churches of this simple and highly interest- 
ing people, speaks as follows : — " When we arrived, I 
was received at^he door of the church by three Kas- 
heeshas, that is presbyters, or priests, who were habited 
in like manner in white vestments. Their names 
were Jesu, Zecharias, and Urias, which they wrote 
down in my journal, each of them adding to his name 
the title Kasheesha. There were also present two 
Shumshanas, or deacons. The elder priest was a 
very intelligent man, of reverend appearance, having a 
long white beard, and of an affable and engaging de- 
portment. The three principal Christians, or lay- 
elders, belonging to the church, were named Abra- 
ham, Thomas and Alexandros."* 

This remarkable fact, it is believed, belongs most 
properly to the present chapter. For if these simple 
Syrian Christians were really settled in the East, as 
early as Dr. Buchanan seems, with good reason, to 
suppose, and were for many centuries entirely secluded 
from all foreign influence ; we may consider them as 
having in operation among them, substantially, that 
ecclesiastical system which existed through the greater 
part of the Christian church at the close of the third, 
and the beginning of the fourth century. A kind of 
testimony which, of course, falls in wdth our purpose 

* Christian Researches in Asia, p. 75. N. Y. Edit. 12mo. 


in examining the testimony of the early ages of the 

Such then, is the amount of the testimony from the 
Christian fathers. They tell us, with a unanimity 
and frequency truly remarkable, that in every church, 
there was a bench or college of elders ; that they sat, 
with the bishop or pastor, as an ecclesiastical judica- 
tory, and with him ruled the church ; that this bench 
or body of rulers was called by various names in 
different parts of the world, such as, Ecclesice Con- 
sessus, the Session or Consistory of the church — 
■ruv 'T^iffSurB^cov ffvvi^iov, thc court or Sanhedrim of the 
elders — Ecclesice Senatus, the senate of the church — 
BovXy, iKx-xnitar thc couucil of thc church, &c. &c. ; that 
they were always present with the bishop or pastor 
when he presided in public worship ; that he did 
nothing of importance without consulting them : 
that they seldom or never preached, unless in cases of 
necessity, or when specially requested to do so by the 
pastor ; that they were more frequently than other- 
wise called clergymen, like the elders who " laboured 
in the word and doctrine," but sometimes distinguished 
from the clergy ; that, however, whether called 
clergymen or not, they were " ecclesiastical men," 
that is, set apart for ecclesiastical purposes, devoted to 
the spiritual rule and edification of the church ; that 
all questions of discipline, such as admitting members 
into the church, inspecting their Christian deportment, 
and censuring, suspending and excomr/iunicating, were 
decided by these elders : and, finally, from all it is 
apparent, that as discipline became unpopular, and 
ecclesiastics more aspiring, the ruling part of the elder's 
office was gradually laid aside, and the teaching part 
alone retained. 



It has been the habit of zealous and high-toned 
Prelatists, for more than two centuries past, as well as 
of some Independents, to assert, that ruling elders 
were unknown in the Christian church until about the 
year 1541 ; that then Calvin invented the order, and 
introduced it into the church of Geneva. And some 
worthy men, of other denominations, have allowed 
themselves, with more haste than good advisement, to 
adopt and repeat the assestion. It is an assertion 
which, undoubtedly, cannot be made good; as the fol- 
lowing testimonies will probably satisfy every impartial 

At how early a period the old Waldenses took their 
rise is uncertain. In some of their Confessions of Faith, 
and other ecclesiastical documents, dated at the com- 
mencement, or soon after the commencement, of the 
Reformation by Luther, they speak of their doctrine 
and order as having been handed down from father 
to son for more than five hundred years. But Rei- 
nerius, who himself lived about two hundred and fifty 
years before Luther, who had once resided among the 
Waldenses, but afterwards became one of their bitterest 
persecutors, seems to ascribe to that people a much 
earlier origin. " They are more pernicious," says he, 
" to the church of Rome than any other set of here- 


tics, for three reasons: — 1. Because they are older 
than any other sect ; for some say that they have been 
ever since the time of Pope Sylvester, (who was raised 
to the Papal chair in 314 ;) and others say, from the 
time of the Apostles.* 2. Because they are more 
extensively spread than any other sect ; there being 
scarcely a country into which they have not crept. 
3. Because other sects are abominable to God for there 
blasphemies ; but the Waldenses are more pious than 
any other heretics; they believe truly of God, live 
justly before men, and receive all the articles of the 
creed ; only they hate the Church of Rome." 

Now, John Paul Perrin, the well known historian 
of the Waldenses, and who was himself one of the 
ministers of that people, in a number of places recog- 
nizes the office of elder, distinguished from that of 
pastor, or teacher, as retained in their churches. He 
expressly and repeatedly represents their Synods as 
composed of ministers and elders. The same writer 
tells us that in the year 1476, the Hussites, being en- 
gaged in separating and reforming their churches from 
the Church of Rome, understood that there were some 
churches of the ancient Waldenses in Austria, in 
which the purity of the gospel was retained, and in 
which there were many eminent pastors. In order to 
ascertain the truth of this account, they (the Hussites) 
sent two of their ministers, with two elders, to inquire 
and ascertain what those flocks or congregations were.f 

The same historian, in the same work, speaks of the 
ministers and elders of the Bohemian churches.^ 
Now the Bohemian Brethren, it is well known, were 

* Reinerius flourished about A.D. 1250, more than 250 years 
before the Reformation ; and, at that time, he speaks of the 
Waldenses as an ancient peophy of too remote an origin to be 
traced with distinctness and certainty. 

f History of the Old Wddenses, part. ii. book 1. chap. 10; 
book 2, chap. 4; book 5, chap. 7. 

X Partii. book 2. chapter 9, 10. 



a branch of the same people called Waldenses.* They 
had removed from Picardy, in the north of France, 
about two hundred years before the time of Huss and 
Jerome, to Bohemia, and there, in conjunction with 
many natives of the country, whom they brought over 
to their opinions, established a number of pure churches, 
which long maintained the simplicity of the gospel. 
The undoubted existence of ruling elders, then, among 
the Bohemian Brethren, affords in itself, strong pre- 
sumptive proof that the same class of officers existed 
in other branches of the same body. And, accordingly, 
a Synod, of which we have an account, as held in 
Piedmont in Italy, in 1570, is represented repeatedly 
as made up of " pastors and elders.'' Again, in the 
form of Government of the same people, in the chapter 
on Excommunication, we find the following direction 
respecting the disorderly, who refuse to listen to private 
admonition : — " Tell it to the church ;" that is, to the 
" guides, whereby the church is ruled ;" and that we 
may be at no loss who these " rulers" were, we are 
told in a preceding chapter that they were elders 
chosen from among the people for the purpose of 
governing ; and informed that they were distinct from 
the pastors. 

The testimony of Perrin and others, is supported 
by that of M. Gillis, another historian of the Wal- 
denses, and also one of their pastors. In the Confes- 
sion of Faith of that people, inserted at length in the 
" Addition" to this work, and stated by the historian 
to have been the Confession of the ancient, as well as 
of the modern Waldenses, it is declared, (p. 490 — 
art. 31,) that " it is necessary for the church to have 
pastors, to preach God's word, to administer the sacra- 
ments, and to watch over the sheep of Jesus Christ ; 
and also elders and deacons, according to the rules of 
good and holy church discipline, and the practice 
of the primitive church." 

f History of the Waldenses, 4to. 1655, published by order of 


Sir Samuel Morelancl, who visited the Waldenses 
in the year 1656, and took unwearied pains to learn 
from themselves their history, as well as their doctrine 
and order ; informs us, that besides their Synodical 
meetings, which took place once a year, when all can- 
didates for the pastoral office were commonly ordained, 
they had also consistories in their respective churches, 
by means of which pure discipline was constantly 

Accordingly, the Rev. Dr. Ranken, in his labori- 
ously learned History of France, gives the following- 
account of the Waldenses and Albigenses, whom he 
very properly represents as the same people. "Their 
government and discipline were extremely simple. 
The youth intended for the ministry among them, 
were placed under the inspection of some of the elder 
barbes, or pastors, who trained them chiefly to the 
knowledge of the Scriptures; and when satisfied of 
their proficiency, they received them as preachers, with 
imposition of hands. Their pastors were maintained 
by the voluntary offerings of the people. The whole 
church assembled once a year, to treat of their gen- 
eral affairs. Contributions were then obtained ; and 
the common fund was divided, for the year, 
among not only the fixed pastors, but such as were 
itinerant, and had no particular district or charge. If 
any of them had fallen into scandal or sin, they were 
prohibited from preaching, and thrown out of the 
society. The pastors were assisted in their inspection 
of the people's morals, by elders, whom probably both 
pastors and people elected, and set apart for that 

Further ; not only does Perrin speak of the minis- 
ters and elders of the Bohemian churches, thereby 
plainly intimating that they had a class of elders 

* History of the Evangelical Churches of Piedmont, book i. 
chapter viii. 

f History of France, vol. iii. pp. 203, 204. 


distinct from their pastors, or preachers; but the 
same thing is placed beyond the possibility of doubt or 
question by the Bohemian Brethren themselves, who, 
in the j^ear 1535, presented a Confession of their Faith 
to Ferdinand, king of Hungary and Bohemia, with 
a friendly and highly commendatory preface by Luther; 
and who, a number of years afterwards, published their 
" Plan of Government and Discipline," which con- 
tains the following paragraph : — 

" Elders (Preshyteri, seu Censor es morum) are 
honest, grave, pious men, chosen out of the whole con- 
gregation, that they may act as guardians of all the 
rest. To them authority is given, (either alone or in 
connection with the pastor) to admonish and rebuke 
those who transgress the prescribed rules, also to re- 
concile those who are at variance, and to restore to order 
whatever irregularity they may have noticed. Like- 
wise in secular matters, relating to domestic concerns, 
the younger men and youths are in the habit of ask- 
ing their counsel, and of being faithfully advised by them. 
From the example and practice of the ancient church, 
we believe that this ought always to be done ; see 
Exodus xviii. 21. — Duteronomy i. 13. — 1 Cor. vi. 2^ 
4, 5.— 1 Tim. V. 17." 

This they say, at the close, " is the ecclesiastical 
order which they and their forefathers had had estab- 
lished among them for two hundred years :* which 
they derived from the word of God ; which they main- 
tained through much persecution, and with much 
patience, and which they had observed with much 
happy fruit to themselves, and to the people of God."f 

* The " Plan of Government and Discipline," from which the 
above extracts are made, was drawn up by their " General 
Synod" in 1616, and printed in 1632. When, therefore, they 
declare that they and their forefathers had enjoyed the same 
order for two hundred years, it carries back the date of this 
system to 1416, that is to the time of John Huss ; and, of course, 
nearly a century before the birth of Calvin. 

f Jo. Amos Comenii Historia Fratrum Bohemorum Ratio 
Disciplince Ordinisque, &c. 11, 56, 68. 


And that all mistake might be precluded respecting 
the real import of the above stated classes, the Bohe- 
mian historian and commentator, Comenius, makes 
the following remarks on the elders in question : — 

" Presbyter, a Greek term, signifying the same with 
Senior, in Latin, (an elder,) is applied by the apostles 
both to the pastors of the church, and to those who 
assisted them in taking care of the flock, who do not 
labour in the word and doctrine; 1 Timothy v. 17. 
Such are our elders; they are styled judges of the 
congregation, or censors of the people, and also 
ruling elders. I am not ignorant, indeed, that Hugo 
Grotius has laboured hard to prove that, in the 
apostles' days there were no other presbyters than 
pastors ; and that he assigns a different meaning to the 
passage in 1 Timothy v. 17. Yet, inasmuch as he 
finally confesses, that although such elders of the 
church as sit with the pastors in ecclesiastical judica- 
tories, be an institution of human prudence, they are, 
nevertheless, very useful, and ought by all means to 
be retained : I hope no one will easily find any reason- 
able objection. To guard against abuses, he subjoins 
very judicious cautions, at the close of chapter xi. of 
the book which he entitled, De Lnperio Summarum 
Protestatwn circa SacraJ'^* 

In precisely the same manner are both the theory 
and practice of the Bohemian Brethren understood by 
the celebrated Martin Bucer, a very learned Lutheran 
divine, whose fame throughout Europe induced Arch- 
bishop Cranmer to invite him to England, during the 
progress of the Reformation in that country, where he 
received patronage and preferment, and was held in 
high estimation. Bucer was a contemporary of the 
Bohemian worthies who published the exhibition of 
their faith and practice above quoted, and, of course, 
had every opportunity of knowing both its letter and 
spirit. He speaks of it in the following terms : — 

* Annotationes ad Rationem Ordinis Fratrum Bohemonim 
ad cap. i. p. 68. 



" The Bohemian Brethren, (Picardi,)* who pub- 
lished a Confession of their faith, in the year 1535, 
with a preface by Luther, and who almost alone pre- 
served in the world the purity of the doctrine, and the 
vigour of the discipline of Christ, observed an excellent 
rule, for which we are compelled to give them credit, 
and especially to praise that God who thus wrought 
by them, notwithstanding those brethren are prepos- 
terously despised by some learned men. The rule 
which they observe was this : besides ministers of the 
Word and Sacraments, they had, in each church, a 
bench or college of men, excelling in gravity and 
prudence, who performed the duties of admonishing 
and correcting offenders, composing differences, and 
judicially deciding in cases of dispute. Of this kind 
of elders, Hilary (Ambrose) wrote, when he said — 
" Therefore the synagogue and afterwards the church 
had elders, without whose counsel nothing was 

It would seem difficult to deny or resist this testi- 
mony that the Bohemian Brethren held to ruling 
elders, and actually maintained this class of officers in 
their churches. Could Bucer, whom Mr. Middleton, 
in his Biographia Evangelica, represents as " a man 
of immense learning," and who is spoken of by Bishop 
Burnet as " perhaps inferior to none of all the Re- 
formers for learning ;" — could he have been ignorant, 
either of the real meaning of a public document, put 
forth in his own time, or of the public and uniform 
practice of a body of pious people, whom he seems to 
have regarded with so much respect and affection, as 

* Bucer styles these worthy people, Fratres Picardi, in refer- 
ence to their origin from the Waldenses, or rather the branch 
called Albigenses in France, to which those who migrated to 
Bohemia belonged. But the people to whom he refers are 
ascertained with unerring certainty by the " Confession of 
Faith" which he so precisely describes. 

f Scripta duo Adve?'saria Latomi^ &c. in Cap. De Ecdesice 
Autoritate, p. 159. 


witnesses for God in a dark world ? It cannot be 
imagined. And what gives additional weight to the 
testimony of this illustrious man is, that he seems to 
have had no interest whatever in vindicating this class 
of church officers; for it is not known that he ever had any 
special inducement, from a sense of reputation, or any 
other cause, to exert himself in maintaining them ; 
and the latter part of his life was spent in England, in 
the service of the established church of that kingdom, 
in the bosom of which he died. 

As a further confirmation of Bucer's judgment in 
reference to the Bohemian Brethren, the celebrated 
John Francis Buddseus, an eminently learned Lu- 
theran divine of Germany, of the seventeenth century, 
who gave an edition, with a large preface, of the work 
of Comenius, in which the history of the Bohemian 
Brethren, and their form of Government, are pub- 
lished, evidently understands their plan in reference to 
the office of ruling elder, precisely as Bucer and other 
learned men have understood it. He employs the 
greater part of his preface in recommending this office. 
And although he does not seem prepared to allow that 
it existed as a separate office in the apostolic church, 
yet he thinks that, virtually, and in substance, it did 
make a part of the apostolic system of supervision and 
order. He thinks, moreover, that, without some such 
office, it is wholly impossible to maintain pure morals 
and sound discipline in the church of God ; and that 
the Bohemian Brethren rendered a most important 
service to the cause of truth and piety in maintaining 
it in their ecclesiastical system.* 

Luther in some of his early writings, had expressed 
an unfavourable opinion of the Bohemian Brethren ; 
but, upon being more fully informed of their doctrine 
and order, and more especially of their provision for 
maintaining sound discipline, by means of their elder- 
ship in each congregation, he changed his opinion, and 

* Jo. Francisci Buddaei, Praefatio de instauranda Disciplina 
Ecclesiastica — Passim. 


became willing both to speak and to write strongly in 
their favour. Hence his highly commendatory pre- 
face, to their " Confession of Faith," of which men- 
tion has been already made. And hence, at a still 
later period, the following strong expressions in favour 
of the same people. " There hath not arisen any peo- 
ple since the time of the apostles, whose church hath 
come nearer to the apostolical doctrine and order than 
the Brethren of Bohemia." And again, " although 
these brethren do not excel us in purity of doctrine, 
(all the articles of faith with us being sincerely and 
purely taken out of the word of God,) yet in the 
ordinary discipline of the church which they use, and 
whereby they happily govern the churches, they go far 
beyond us, and are, in this respect, far more praise- 
worthy. And we cannot but acknowledge and yield 
this to them, for the glory of God, and of his truth; 
whereas our people of Germany cannot be persuaded 
to be willing to take the yoke of discipline upon 

It is presumed that no one, after impartially weigh- 
ing the foregoing testimonies, will listen for one 
moment, with any respect, to the allegation that the 
plan of a bench of elders for ruling the church and 
conducting its discipline was invented by Calvin. 
But we may go further. The truth is, that instead of 
the Waldenses, or Bohemian Brethren taking this 
order of officers from Calvin, it may be affirmed that 
precisely the reverse was the fact. We have satisfac- 
tory evidence that Calvin took the hint from the 
Bohemian Brethren ; and that the system which he 
afterwards established in Geneva, was really suggested 
and prompted by the example of those pious sufferers 
and witnesses for the truth, who had this class of 
officers in their churches long before Calvin's day. 
This will be made clearly to appear from the follow- 
ing statement. 

* Job. A. Coraenii Historia Bohem. Frat. sect. 82. 


When Calvin first settled in Geneva, in 1536, he 
found the Reformed religion ah-eady introduced, and, 
to a considerable extent, supported, under the ministry 
of Farel and Viret, two bold and faithful advocates of 
evangelical truth. Such, however, was the opposition 
made to the doctrines which they preached, and espe- 
cially to the purity of discipline which they struggled 
hard to establish, by the licentious part of the inhabi- 
tants, among whom were some of the leading magis- 
trates, that in 1538, Calvin and his colleagues were 
expelled from their places in the Genevan church, 
because they refused to administer the Lord's Supper 
to the vilest of the population who chose to demand 
the privilege. In a paroxysm of popular fury, those 
faithful ministers of Christ were commanded to leave 
the city within two days. During this temporary 
triumph of error and profligacy, Calvin retired to 
Strasburg, where he was appointed Professor of 
Divinity and Pastor of a Church, and where he re- 
mained nearly four years. 

In 1540, the year before he was recalled to Geneva, 
he corresponded with the Bohemian Brethren, and 
made himself particularly acquainted with their plan 
of church government, which he regarded with deep 
interest ; an interest, no doubt greatly augmented by 
the sufferings which he had recently undergone in 
fruitless efforts to maintain the purity of ecclesiastical 
discipline ; in which efforts he had been baffled chiefly 
by the want of such an efficient system as the Bohe- 
mian churches possessed. In the course of this cor- 
respondence, while yet in exile for his fidelity, Calvin 
addressed the Bohemian pastors in the following pointed 
terms: — " I heartily congratulate your churches, upon 
which, besides sound doctrine, God hath bestowed so 
many excellent gifts. Of these gifts, it is none of the 
least to have such past jrs to govern and order them ; 
to have a people themselves so well affected and dis- 
posed; — to be constituted under so noble a form of 
government ; — to be adorned with the most excellent 


discipline, which we justly call most excellent, and, in- 
deed, the only bond by which obedience can be pre- 
served. I am sure we find with us, by woful experience, 
what the worth of it is, by the want of it ; nor yet can 
we by any means attain to it. On this account it is 
that I am often faint in my mind, and feeble in the 
discharge of the duties of my office. Indeed, I should 
quite despair did not this comfort me, that the edifica- 
tion of the church is always the work of the Lord, 
which He himself wdll carry on by his own power, 
though all help beside should fail. Yet still it is a 
great and rare blessing to be aided by so necessary a 
help. Therefore I shall not consider our church as 
properly strengthened, until they can be bound to- 
gether by that bond." And the pious historian, after 
giving this extract from the venerable Reformer, adds : 
" It so happened, in the course of divine Providence, 
that not long afterwards, this eminent man was re- 
called to minister in the church of Geneva, where he 
established the very same kind of discipline which is 
now famed throughout the world."* 

Testimony more direct and conclusive could scarcely 
be desired. Comenius, himself a Bishop of the Bohe- 
mian Brethren, surely knew what kind of eldership it 
was which was established among the churches of his 
own denomination. He says it was the very same 
Tvith that which Calvin afterwards established in 
Geneva. We know, too, that this venerable man, 
before he was expelled from Geneva, in 1538, and 
while he was struggling and suffering so much for 
want of an efficient discipline, made no attempt to 
introduce the institution in question. But, during his 
painful exile, his attention is forcibly turned to the 
Bohemian plan. He is greatly pleased with it; speaks 
in the strongest terms of its excellence : declares that 
he has no hope of any church prospering until it is in- 
troduced ; and the very next year, on his return, 

* Job. A. Comenii Historia Bohem. Frat. sect. 80. 


makes it one of the conditions of his resuming his 
pastoral charge, that this plan of conducting the dis- 
cipline of the church, by a bench of elders, shall be 
received with him, and thus causes it to be adopted in 

And yet the historian of the Waldenses, John Paul 
Perrin, has been reproached, and insinuations made 
unfavourable to his honesty, because he has represented 
the Bohemian Brethren as having ecclesiastical elders 
distinct from their ministers of the gospel. How utterly 
unjust such reproaches are, every one must now see. 
If there were ever ruling elders in Geneva, they were 
found in the churches of Bohemia. Nor is it any solid 
objection to the fact, as we have stated it, that they had 
some other features in their system of church order 
which were not strictly presbyterian. All that the his- 
torian has to do is with facts. Having stated these, he 
is answerable for nothing more. That those churches 
gave the title of Seniors, but more frequently of Antis- 
tites to certain elderly clergymen, who were peculiarly 
venerable in their character, and who chiefly took the 
lead in all ordinations, is no doubt true ; that, in their 
plan of church government, they distinguished their 
Diaconi from their Eleemosynarii ; and that they in- 
clude in the list of their ecclesiastical offices, some 
which are strictly secular, is also manifest. But surely 
none of these invalidate the fact, that they had ruling 
elders ; a fact stated in a manner which it is impossible 
either to doubt or mistake. 

Thus we have good evidence, that all the most dis- 
tinguished and faithful witnesses for the truth, during 
the dark ages, with whose faith and order we have any 
minute acquaintance, carefully maintained the office 
for which we are contending ; that some of them, at 
least, considered it as of divine appointment, and 
accordingly quote in its support Scriptural authority ; 
and that they appear, with good reason, to have re- 
garded it as one of the most efficient means, under the 
divine blessing, of promoting the spiritual order and 
edification of the church. 



We have seen how utterly groundless is the asser- 
tion, that ruling elders were invented and first in- 
troduced by Calvin at Geneva. If there be any truth 
in history, they were in use long before Calvin was 
born, and in the purest churches on earth, to say no- 
thing of their apostolical origin. Nor is this all. It 
may further be maintained, that a great majority 
of the Reformers, in organizing those churches which 
separated from the Church of Rome, either actually 
introduced this class of officers, or, in their pubHshed 
writings, freely and fully declared in its favour. And 
this was the case, as we shall presently see, not merely 
on the part of those who followed Calvin both as to 
time and opinion ; but also on the part of those who 
either preceded, or had no ecclesiastical connection 
whatever with that illustrious man : and who wei'e far 
from agreeing with him in many other particulars. 
Now this is surely a marvellous fact, if, as some 
respectable writers would persuade us to believe, the 
office in question is a mere figment of Genevan contriv- 
ance, toward the middle of the sixteenth century. 

The first reformer whose testimony I shall adduce 
in favour of this office is Ulrick Zuingle, the celebrated 


leader in the work of Reformation in Switzerland. 
And I mention him first, because as he never was 
connected with Calvin — nay, as he was removed by 
death in 1531, five years before Calvin ever saw 
Geneva, or appeared in the ranks of the Reformers, 
and ten years before the introduction of ruling elders 
into that city — he cannot be suspected of speaking as 
the humble imitator of that justly honoured individual. 

On the subject of ruling elders, Zuingle speaks 
thus : — " The title of presbyter or elder, as used in 
Scripture, is not rightly understood by those who con- 
sider it as applicable only to those who preside in 
preaching: for it is evident that the term is also 
sometimes used to designate elders of another kind, 
that is, senators, leaders, or counsellors. So we 
read Acts xv. where it is said, ' the apostles and elders 
came together to consider of this matter.' Here we 
see that the elders spoken of are to be considered 
as senators or counsellors. It is evident that the 
'T^ii^vri^oi mentioned in this place were not ministers 
of the word ; but that they were aged, prudent, and 
venerable men, who, in directing and managing the 
affairs of the church, were the same thing as the 
senators in our cities. And the title elder is used in 
the same sense in many other places in the Acts of the 

Again, Oecolampadius, who also died before Calvin 
appeared as an active reformer, and of course before 
the introduction of ruling elders in the church of 
Geneva, speaks thus, in an Oration which he pro- 
nounced before the Senate of Basil in 1530, about a 
year before his death : " But it is evident that those 
which are here intended, are certain seniors or elders, 
such as were in the apostle's days, and who of old time 
were called ^^is(ivr^oi, whose judgment being that of 

* This quotation from Zuing^le, is taken from the Politicce 
EcchsiasticcB of Voetins, in which it is cited for the same pur- 
pose as here ; a copy of the works of the Swiss Reformer not 
being at present within the reach of the writer of the Essay. 



the most prudent part of the church, was considered 
as the decision of the whole church." 

Here again, is the testimony of a man, who could 
not have been influenced by any knowledge of the 
opinions of Calvin — for Calvin had as yet pubHshed 
no opinions on the subject — and who yet speaks in 
very unequivocal terms of a class of officers, as not only 
existing afterwards, but as of apostolical institution ; 
which, according to some, were not known in the 
church, either in theory or practice, for ten years after 
the decease of this distinguished reformer. 

The testimony of Martin Bucer, as one of the most 
venerable and active of the reformers, properly belongs 
to this branch of the subject. But as his sentiments 
were so fully detailed in the quotation from him 
presented in the preceding chapter, it is not deemed 
necessary to repeat the statement here. From that ex- 
tract it is evident, not only that he approved of the 
office of ruling elder, as of eminent use in the church, 
but also that he considered Ambrose as asserting that 
officers of this class were found in the primitive church, 
and that he agreed with the pious father in maintaining 
this assertion. Here was another eminently learned 
man, and a contemporary of Calvin, who bears testi- 
mony that ruling elders were in use in the purest 
portion of the Christian church, as a laudable and 
scriptural institution, centuries before the reformer of 
Geneva was born. 

The character of Peter Martyr, a celebrated Pro- 
testant divine of Italy, whose high reputation induced 
Edward VI. to invite him to England, where he was 
made Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and Canon of 
Christ Church, speaks of ruling elders in the follow- 
ing decisive terms : — " The church" (speaking of the 
primitive church) " had its elders, or, if I may so 
speak, its senate, who consulted about things which 
were for edification for the time being. Paul describes 
this kind of ministry, not only in the 12th chapter of 
the Episde to the Romans, but also in the first Epistle 


to Timothy, where he thus writes : — 'Let the elders 
that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, 
especially those that labour in the word and doctrine.' 
Which words appear to me to signify that there were 
then some elders who taught and preached the word 
of God, and another class of elders who did not teach, 
but only ruled in the church. Concerning these 
Ambrose speaks when he expounds this passage in 
Timothy. Nay, he inquires whether it was owing to 
the pride or the sloth of the sacerdotal order that they 
had then almost ceased in the church."* 

The celebrated John Alasco, a devoted and 
eminently useful reformer, is also a decisive witness on 
the same side. Alasco was a Polish nobleman, of 
excellent education, and great learning. He was offer- 
ed two Bishoprics, one in Poland, and another in 
Hungary : but he forsook his native country, and all 
the secular and ecclesiastical honours which awaited 
him, from love to the Reformed religion. In his youth 
he enjoyed the special friendship of Erasmus, who 
speaks of him in one of his letters, (Erasmi Epist. Lib. 
28. Ep. 3,) as a man of uncommon excellence and 
worth. The Protestant churches in the low coun- 
tries being scattered, in consequence of the agitation 
produced by the celebrated ordinance called the In- 
terim, published by Charles V., Alasco was invited 
to England, by King Edward VI., at the instance of 
Archbishop Cranmer. He accepted the invitation, and 
was chosen Superintendentf of the German, French, 
and Italian congregations erected in London, which 
are said to have consisted in the aggregate, of more 
than three thousand souls. He afterwards published 

* P. Martyris Loci Communes. Class, iv. Cap. 1. Sect. 2. 

-I* It is worthy of notice here that althouoh a superintendent 
was regarded by Alasco as one who had the inspection of 
several congregations ; yet " he was greater than his brethren 
only in respect of his greater trouble and care, not having more 
authority than the other elders, either as to the ministery of the 
word and scraments, or as to the exercise of ecclesiastical dis- 
cipline, to which he was subject equally with the rest." 


an account of the form of government and worship 
adopted in those congregations. The affairs of each, it 
is distinctly stated in that account, were managed by a 
pastor, ruhng elders, and deacons, and each of these 
classes of officers was considered as of divine appoint- 
ment. We also learn from his statement, that the ru- 
ling elders and deacons of these churches, as well as 
the pastors were ordained by the imposition of hands. 
He further informs us, that in the administration of 
the Lord's Supper, in the churches under his superin- 
tendency, the communicants sat at the table ; and he 
occupies a number of pages in showing that this posture 
ought to be preferred to kneeling. In short, he de- 
clares " We have laid aside all the relics of Popery, 
with its mummeries, and we have studied the greatest 
possible simplicity in ceremonies." 

Notwithstanding the publication of these sentiments, 
and the establishment of these practices, marking so 
great a non-conformity with the Church of England, 
Alasco was highly esteemed, and warmly patronized 
by Archbishop Cranmer, and also by the King, who 
granted him letters patent, constituting him and the 
other ministers of the foreign congregations a body 
corporate, and giving them important privileges and 
powers. These letters may be seen among the original 
records subjoined to Burnet's History of the Refor- 
mation, ii. 202. The following remarks by Alasco 
himself, will serve at once to explain the design of the 
king in granting his royal sanction to these people, and 
also his own view of the principles upon which he and 
his brethren acted in founding the churches in 

" When I was called by the king, and when certain 
laws of the countiy stood in the way, so that the public 
rites of divine worship used under the Papacy could not 
be immediately purged out, (which the king himself 
greatly desired,) and when I was anxious and earnest 
in my solicitations for the foreign churches, it was at 
length his pleasure that the public rites of the English 


churches should be reformed by degrees, as far as could 
be accomplished by the laws of the country ; but that 
strangers who were not strictly and to the same extent 
bound by these laws, should have churches granted to 
them, in which they should freely regulate all things, 
wholly according to apostolical doctrine and practice, 
without any regard to the rites of the country ; that by 
this means the English churches also might be excited 
to embrace apostolical purity, by the unanimous con- 
sent of all the estates of the kingdom. Of this project, 
the king himself, from his great piety, was both the 
chief author and the defender. For although it was 
almost universally acceptable to the king's council, and 
the Archbishop of Canterbury promoted it with all his 
might, there were not wanting some who took it ill, 
and would have opposed it, had not his majesty checked 
them by his authority, and by the reasons which hf 
adduced in favour of the design." Again, in the 
appendix to the same book, p. 649, he says : — " The 
care of our church was committed to us chiefly with 
this view, that in the ministration thereof we should 
follow the rules of the divine word, and apostolical 
observance, rather than any rites of other churches. 
In fine, we were admonished both by the king himself, 
and his chief nobility, to use this great liberty gTanted 
to us in our ministry righdy and faithfully ; not to 
please men, but for the glory of God, by promoting the 
reformation of his worship."* 

On the whole, we have in this case a witness as 
unexceptionable and weighty as can well be desired. 
A man of eminent learning, piety, and devotedness. 
A man formed not in the school of Calvin, but of 
Zuingle. A man who, when the transactions and 

* See M'Crie's Life of Knox, vol i. pp. 392—396. See also, 
Gisberti Voetii PoliticcB EtclesiasticcB. Tom. i. 420 — 422. See 
also Forma et Ratio totius Ecdesiastici ministerii Edvardi sexti 
in Peregrinorurtiy maxirne Germanorum Eceles. Also, De 
Ordinatione Ecclesiarum Peregrinarum in Anglia. Epist 
Dedicate et. p. 649. 



publications above alluded to occurred, lived in England, 
where ruling elders were unknown : and who yet in 
these circumstances, declared himself in favour of this 
class of officers as of divine appointment, and as im- 
portant to the purity and edification of the church. 

But there is a still more conclusive fact in reference 
to this stage of the Reformation in England. Alasco, 
it will be observed, asserts that both king Edward 
and Archbishop Cranmer were strongly favourable to 
the plan of discipline which he and others had intro- 
duced into the churches of foreign Potestants in Eng- 
land. In confirmation of this statement, there is evi- 
dence that Cranmer and the rest of the Commissioners 
in Edward's reign, did directly propose the introduc- 
tion of ruling elders in the national church. They 
drew up a body of laws which, though not finally 
ratified, partly on account of opposing influence, and 
partly from the premature decease of the monarch, 
yet clearly show the opinion and wishes of Cranmer and 
his associates. One of the proposed laws is as fol- 
lows : — " After evening prayers, on which all shall 
attend in their own parish churches^ the principal min- 
ister or parson, and the deacon,, if they are present; 
or, in case of their absence, the curate and the elders, 
shall consider how the money given for pious uses had 
best be laid out : and then let discipline be exercised. 
For, those whose sin has been public, and given offence 
to the whole church, should be brought to a sense of 
it, and publicly undergo the punishment of it, that so 
the church may be the better for their correction. 
After that the ministers shall withdraw with some of 
the elders, and consult how all other persons who are 
disorderly in their life and conversation may be con- 
versed with ; first by some sober and good men in a 
brotherly manner, according to the direction of Christ 
in the gospel ; and if they hearken to their advice, 
God is to be praised for it ; but if they go on in their 
wickedness, they are to be restrained by that severe 


punishment which is in the gospel prescribed for such 

The testimony of Calvin will next be introduced. 
As he is charged with being the inventor of this class 
of officers, the weight of his opinion as a witness in its 
favour, will probably be deemed small by its opposers. 
But there is one point of view in which his testimony 
will surely be regarded with deep respect, and, may I 
not add, as decisive ? That he was a man of mature 
and profound learning no one can doubt. Joseph 
Scaliger, himself a prodigy of erudition, pronounced 
him to have been the most learned man in Europe in 
his day ; and, particularly, " that no man understood 
ecclesiastical history so well." Now, it is certain that 
Calvin did not consider the office of ruling elder as 
originating with himself; but that he regarded it as 
an apostolical institution ; that he refers to Scripture 
for its support ; and that he quotes Ambrose, (whose 
testimony has been so often refered to,) as an unques- 
tionable witness for the existence of the office under 
consideration in the primitive church. The following- 
extracts from his Commentary and his Institutions will 
fully establish what is here asserted. 

In his exposition of 1 Tim. v. 17, he speaks thus : 
" From this passage we may gather that there were 
then two kinds of presbyters, because they were not 
all ordained to the work of teaching. For the words 
plainly mean that some ruled well, to whom no part 
of the public instruction was committed. And, verily, 
there were chosen from among the people grave and 
approved men, who, in common council and joint au- 
thority with the pastors, administered the discipline of 
the church, and acted the part of censors for the cor- 
rection of morals. This practice, Ambrose complains, 
had fallen into disuse, through the indolence, or rather 

* Peirce's Vindication of the Dissenters, p. 23. Baxter's 
Treatise of Episcopacy, part. ii. p. 112. Reformatio Leg^nm 
Eccle.siasticarum, ex authoritate Reois, Hen. viii. et. Ed v. vi. 
4 to. IGiO. 


the pride of the teaching elders, who wished alone to 
be distinguished." 

In his Institutions, (book iv. chapter iii.,) he has 
the following passage equally explicit. " In calling 
those who preside over churches by the appellations of 
' bishops,' ' elders,' and ' pastors,' without any dis- 
tinction, I have followed the usage of the Scriptures, 
which apply all these terms to express the same mean- 
ing. For to all who discharge the ministry of the 
word, they give the title of ' bishops.' So when Paul 
enjoins Titus to ' ordain elders in every city,' he im- 
mediately adds, * For a bishop must be blameless.' 
So, in another place, he salutes more bishops than one 
in one church. And in the Acts of the Apostles, he 
is declared to have sent for the elders of the church 
of Ephesus, whom, in his address to them, he calls 
' bishops.' Here it must be observed, that we have 
enumerated onl}' those offices which consist in the min- 
istry of the word ; nor does Paul mention any other 
in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians 
which w^e have quoted. But in the Epistle to the Ro- 
mans, and the first Epistle to the Corinthians, he enu- 
merates others, as ' powers,' ' gifts of healing,' ' inter- 
pretation of tongues,' * governments,' ' care of the 
poor.' Those functions which are merely temporary 
I omit, as foreign to our present subject. But there are 
two which perpetually remain, ' governments,' and 
' the care of the poor.' ' Governors,' I apprehend to 
have been persons of advanced years, selected from 
the people, to unite with the bishops in giving admoni- 
tions, and exercising discipline. For no other inter- 
pretation can be given of that injunction, ' He that 
ruleth, let him do it with diligence.' For from the 
beginning every church has had its senate or council, 
composed of pious, grave, and holy men, who were 
invested with that jurisdiction, for the correction of 
vices, of which we shall soon treat. Now, that this 
was not the regulation of a single age, experience it- 


self demonstrates. This office of government is 
necessary, therefore, in every age." 

I ask, was Calvin honest or dishonest in these de- 
clarations? If he had invented and introduced the 
office himself, could he have been ignorant of the fact ? 
And whether it was so or not, who may reasonably be 
considered as best able to judge — himself, or tliose 
who lived nearly three hundred years after him ? And 
who would be most likely to know whether it were of 
ancient or modern origin; — the most learned man 
then, perhaps, in the world — or men with not a tenth 
part of his erudition, at the present day ? The truth 
is, these passages, considered in connection with that 
quoted in a former chapter, in which he speaks of 
himself, in reference to this office, as following the ex- 
ample of the pious witnesses of the truth who preceded 
him, — prove, either that Calvin did not consider him- 
self as the inventor of the office, but believed that it 
had been in the church in all ages, — or that he was 
gratuitously and profligately regardless of the truth, to 
a degree never laid to his charge. 

Nor is the testimony to the primitive existence of 
the class of officers, confined to those of the reformers 
who were favourable to their continuance in the church. 
Some, by no means friendly to their restoration, were 
yet constrained to acknowledge their early origin. 

That there were ruling elders in the primitive 
church, is explicitly granted by Archbishop Whitgift, 
a warm and learned friend of diocesan episcopacy. 
" I know," says he, " that in the primitive church, 
they had in every church certain seniors, to whom 
the government of the congregation was committed ; 
but that was before there was any Christian prince or 
magistrate that openly professed the gospel ; and before 
there was any church by public authority established." 

And again : — " Both the name and office of seniors 
were extinguished before Ambrose's time, as he himself 
doth testify, writing upon the fifth of the first epistle 
to Timothy. Indeed, as Ambrose saith, the synagogue. 


and afterwards the church, had seniors, without whose 
counsel nothing was done in the church ; but that was 
before his time, and before there was any Christian 
magistrate, or any church estabhshed."* The learned 
and acute Archbishop, it seems, was not only convinced 
that there was ruling elders, distinct from preaching 
elders, in the primitive church, but with all his eru- 
dition and discernment, he understood Ambrose just 
as the friends of this class of officers now understand 

There is another testimony on this subject, from one 
of the most conspicious and active friends of the Refor- 
mation in England, which is worthy of particular 
notice. I refer to that of the Rev. Dean Nowell, who 
flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and whose 
celebrated catechism, drawn up in 1562, obtained, 
perhaps, as much currency and respect as any publica- 
tion of that period. Nor are we to consider it as ex- 
pressing the sentiments of the illustrious divine whose 
name it bears, alone ; for it was unanimously approved 
and sanctioned by the same lower house of Convocation 
which passed the 39 Articles of the Church of England, 
and directed to be published and used as containing 
the true doctrine of that church. In this catechism, 
toward the close, when speaking of the evils of retain- 
ing unworthy members in the church, the following 
questions and answers occur : — 

" Q. What remedy for this evil can be devised and 
applied ?" 

" A. In churches well constituted and governed, 
there was, as I before said, a certain plan and order 
of government appointed and observed. Elders were 
chosen, that is, ecclesiastical rulers, who conducted and 
maintained the discipline of the church. To these 
pertained authority, reproof, and chastisement; and 
they, with the concurrence of the pastor, if they knew 
any who, by false opinions, troublesome errors, foolish 

* Defence against Cartvvright, p. 638, 651. 


superstitions, or vicious and profligate lives, were 
likely to bring a great public scandal on the church of 
God, and who could not approach the Lord's Supper 
without a manifest profanation, repelled them from the 
communion, and no more admitted them until, by 
public penitence, they gave satisfaction to the church." 

" Q. What is to be done?" (when those who have 
been excluded from the church repent, and desire to 
be restored to its communion.) 

" A. That they may be received again into the 
church, and to the enjoyment of its holy mysteries, 
from which they have been deservedly cast out, they 
ought humbly to supplicate and pray. And, on the 
whole, there ought to be such moderation used in ad- 
ministering public penance, that neither by too much 
severity the offender may be reduced to despondency, 
nor by too much lenity the discipline of the church 
relaxed, its authority diminished, and others encour- 
aged and incited to similar offences. But when, in 
the judgment of the elders and of the pastor, proper 
satisfaction shall be made, by the chastisement of the 
offender for an example to others, he may be admitted 
again to the communion of the church."* 

Nothing can be more unequivocal or decisive than 
this testimony. In the opinion not only of the writer 
of the catechism before us, but also of the leading 
clergy of the Church of England, who sanctioned it, 
and enjoined its general use, there ought to be, in 
every church, besides the pastor, a bench of elders, or 
ecclesiastical rulers, whose duty it should be to preside 
over the discipline, and, in conjunction with the pas- 
tor, to receive, admonish, suspend, excommunicate, 
and restore members, — in a manner precisely agreeable 
to the well known practice of the presbyterian church. 
In truth. Dr. Nowell could scarcely have expressed in 
more distinct and unqualified terms his approbation of 
this part of our system, than in telling us what, in 

* See Bishop Randolph's Enchiridion Theologicum, voli. 326, 
327, third Edition. 


his judgment, and that of his brethren, every well 
regulated church ouorht to have. 

Ursinus, a learned German divine, contemporary 
with Luther and Melancthon, speaks a language still 
more to our purpose. " Ministers," says he, " are 
either immediately called of God, or mediately, through 
the instrumentality of the church. Of the former 
class were prophets and apostles. Of the latter class 
there are five kinds, viz. evangelists, bishops, or pas- 
tors, teachers, ruling elders, and deacons. Evangel- 
ists are ministers appointed to go forth and preach 
the gospel to a number of churches. Bishops are 
ministers ordained to preach the Word of God and 
administer the sacraments in particular churches. 
Teachers are ministers appointed merely to fulfil the 
function of teaching in particular churches. Ruling- 
elders are ministers elected by the voice of the church 
to assist in conducting discipline and to order a 
variety of necessary matters in the church. Deacons 
are ministers elected by the church to take care of the 
poor and distribute alms."* 

In the Confession of Saxony, drawn up by Melanc- 
thon, in 1551, and subscribed by a large number of 
Lutheran divines and churches, we find this class of 
officers recognized, and represented as in use in those 
churches. Speaking of the exercise of discipline, in 
its various branches, they say: — "That these things 
may be done orderly, there be also consistories ap- 
pointed in our churches." Of these consistories, a 
majority of members, it is well known, were ruling 

Szegeden, a very eminent Lutheran divine, of 
Hungary, contemporary with Luther, also speaks very 
decisively of the apostolic institution of ruling elders. 
The following passage is sufficient to exhibit his sen- 
timents. " The ancient church had presbyters, or 
elders, of which the apostle speaks, 1 Corinth, v. 4. 

* Ursini Corpus Doctrine, par. iii. p. 721. 


And these elders were of two kinds. One class of them 
preached the gospel, administered the sacraments, and 
governed the church, the same as bishops ; for bishops 
and presbyters are the same order. But another class 
of elders consisted of grave and upright men, taken 
from among the laity, who, together with the preaching 
elders before mentioned, consulted respecting the 
affairs of the church, and devoted their labour to ad- 
monishing, correcting, and taking care of the flock of 

The Magdeburgh centuriators, who were eminently 
learned Lutheran divines, contemporary with Melanc- 
thon, and who have been regarded, for three hundred 
years, as among the highest authorities on questions 
of ecclesiastical history, speak in the following decisive 
terms with regard to the office in question. And al- 
though the extract has been given in a former page, 
yet, as it is brief and pointed, it may not be improper 
to assign it a place in this connexion. Speaking of 
the third century, they say : — " The right of deciding 
respecting such as were to be excommunicated, or of 
receiving, upon their repentance, such as had fallen, 
was vested in the elders of the church."f 

The learned Francis Junius, a distinguished divine 
and professor of theology of the Church of Holland, 
who lived at the commencement of the Reformation in 
that country, and was, of course, contemporary with 
Martyr, Bucer, Melancthon, &c., wrote very fully and 
explicitly in favour of the office of ruling elder. In 
his work entitled Ecclesiastici, he decisively, and with 
great learning, maintains that pastors, ruling elders, 
and deacons, are the only three spiritual orders of 
church officers ; that pastors, or ministers of the word 
and sacraments, are the highest order, and of course 
are invested with the power of ordaining; that the 

* Szegedeni Loci Comiiiunes. p. 197. edit, quint, folio — 
Basil. 1608. 
f Cent. iii. cap. vii. p. 151. 


second class are men of distinguished piety and pru- 
dence, chosen from among the members of the church, 
to assist the pastor in the government of the church ; 
and that the deacons are appointed to collect and dis- 
tribute the alms of the church. He affirms that these 
three orders are set forth in scripture, and existed in 
the primitive church : and that the disuse of ruling 
elders, as well as the introduction of prelacy, is a depar- 
ture from the primitive model.* 

The Protestant churches of Hungary and Tran- 
sylvania, although in organizing their churches they 
did not actually adopt and introduce the office of rul- 
ing elder, yet in the preface, and other statements, 
published with their ecclesiastical formularies, they 
spoke in the most unequivocal terms both of the 
value and the early origin of this class of officers. 
The following extract may be considered as a fair 
specimen of their testimony on this subject: — " Most 
other nations, belonging to the evangelical confession, 
have been in the habit of choosing and constituting 
elders in every village and city, agreeably to the prac- 
tice of the old church, and also of the New Testament: 
men sound in the faith, blameless, the husbands of one 
wife, having faithful children, chargeable with no 
crime, grave, prudent, &c. It is made the official 
duty of these men diligently to watch over the lives 
and conversation of all the members of the church, to 
rebuke the dissolute, and, if need be, to refer their 
cases to the pastors and to the whole eldership, &c." 
Here they make a clear distinction between these 
elders and the pastors of the churches, and represent 
the former as assistants to the latter in the spiritual 
concerns of the church. They then proceed to state 
why a class of officers so useful, in most cases so 
jiecessary, and which they also considered as having 
• existed in the apostolic church, was not received among 

* Ecclesiastici, sive de nat. et administrat. Ecclesiae, &c. Lib. 
ii. cap. 2, 3, 4. 
f See G. Voetii Polit. Eccles. par. ii. lib. ii tract, iii. 


The character of Jerome Zanchius, a learned divine 
of Italy of the sixteenth century, who greatly distin- 
guished himself among the Reformers, is so well known, 
that a detailed account of his great accomplishments 
and reputation is unnecessary. On the subject before 
us, he speaks thus : — " The whole ministry of the 
Christian church may be divided into three classes. 
The first consists of those who dispense the word and 
sacraments, corresponding with those who, under the 
Old Testament, were called priests and Levites, and 
under the New Testament, apostles, pastors, and 
teachers. The second consists of those whose peculiar 
oflSce it is to take care of the discipline of the church, 
to inspect the lives and conversation of all, and to 
take care that all live in a manner becoming Christians; 
and also, if at any time there should be a necessity for 
it, in the absence of the pastor, to instruct the people. 
There were such under the Old Testament in the 
synagogue ; and such also were the senators who were 
added to the bishop in the administration of the New 
Testament church. These officers are styled presby- 
ters, (presbi/teri,) and elders, {seniores,) of which the 
apostle speaks, besides other places, in 1 Timothy, v. 
17; Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy 
of double honour, especially those who labour in the 
word and doctrine. In this passage the apostle mani- 
festly speaks of two sorts or classes of elders, as he was 
understood by Ambrose and others, among the ancients, 
and by almost all our modern Protestant divines, as 
Bullinger, Peter Martyr, &c. &c.* 

The most cursory reader of this extract will not fail 
to take notice, not only that Zanchius evidently ap- 
proved of this office, but that he thought it of divine 
appointment ; that he interpreted as we do the famous 
passage in Ambrose, which the opposers of ruling 
elders have expended sc much ingenuity in labouring 
to explain away ; and ^hat he considered almost all 

* Zanchii Opera. Tom. iv. In Quartum Praeceptura, p. 727. 

the reformed divines as being of the same opinion with 

The high reputation of Parseus, a learned and pious 
German divine, contemporary with Melancthon and 
Zanchius, is also well known. His testimony respect^ 
ing the office under consideration is very explicit. In 
his commentary on Romans xii. 8, he observes: — 
" Here the apostle understands the function of that 
class of elders who, united with the pastors, watch 
over and correct the morals and discipline of the 
church. For there were two classes of elders, as 
may be gathered from 1 Timothy v. 17. Some who 
laboured in the word and doctrine, who were to be ac- 
counted worthy of double honour; such as teachers, 
pastors, or bishops; the others, such as laboured in 
conducting discipline, who are here called govern- 
ments." And in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 
xii. 28, he says : " The apostle here undoubtedly 
speaks of the elders who presided in the administration 
of discipline. For the primitive church had its senate, 
who attended to the morals of the congregation, while 
the apostles and teachers were left at leisure to preach. 
This the apostle indicates very clearly in the first 
Epistle to Timothy, v. 17, where two classes of pres- 
byters are represented as constituted. The govern- 
ments here spoken of were not of princes or praetors, 
armed with the sword, but grave, experienced men, 
exercising authority over others, chosen out of the 
church, by the consent of the church, to assist the pas- 
tors in conducting discipline, and to alleviate their 

The celebrated Piscator, who held a distinguished 
place among the divines who adorned Germany, and 
maintained the Protestant cause in the sixteenth cen- 
tury, is equally decisive, as an advocate of the office 
under consideration. In his commentary on 1 Tim. 
V. 17, he says: — " The apostle distributes elders into 
two classes — those who preside in maintaining ecclesi- 
astical discipline but did not publicly teach, and 


those who both taught and co-operated in ruling, and 
were therefore worthy of a great honour, and a more 
liberal support than the others." 

Few ministers of the Church of England, during 
the reign of Queen Elizabeth, were more distinguished 
for talents, learning, and piety, than Thomas Cart- 
wright, professor of divinity in the University of Cam- 
bridge, the opponent of the high prelatical claims of 
Archbishop Whitgift, and concerning whom the cele- 
brated Beza pronounced, that he thought " the sun 
did not shine upon a more learned man." This 
eminent divine, commenting on Matthew xviii. 17. 
Tell it unto the church, &c., thus remarks : — " Theo- 
phylact upon this place interpreteth. Tell the church, 
that is many, because this assembly taketh knowledge 
of this and other things by their mouths: that is, their 
governors. Chrysostom also saith, that to tell the 
church is to tell the governors thereof. It is there- 
fore to be understood that these governors of the 
church, which were set over every several assembly in 
the time of the law, were of two sorts ; for some had 
the handling of the word; some other watching 
against the offences of the church, did, by common 
counsel with theministersoftheword, take order against 
the same. Those governing elders are divers times 
in the story of the gospel made mention of under the 
title of ' rulers of the synagogue.' And this manner 
of government, because it was to be translated into 
the church of Christ under the gospel, our Saviour, 
by the order at that time used among the Jews, de~ 
clareth what after should be done in his church. 
Agreeably hereunto, the apostle both declared the 
Lord's ordinance in his behalf, and put the same in 
practice, in ordaining to every several church, beside 
the ministry of the word, certain of the chiefest men 
which should assist the work of the Lord's building. 
This was also faithfully practised of the churches after 
the apostles' times, as long as they rem-ained in any 
good and allowable soundness of doctrine. And being 
2 K 


fallen from the churches, especially from certain of 
them, the want thereof is sharply and bitterly cast into 
the teeth of the church's teachers, — by whose ambi- 
tion that came to pass."* And as proof of this, the 
author quotes in the margin that very passage of 
Ambrose cited in the preceding section, and which 
has always given so much trouble to Prelatists and 

The same writer, in his second reply to Whitgift, 
speaking of the class of elders under consideration, 
expresses himself thus: — " For proof of these church 
elders, which being occupied in the government had 
nothing to do with the word, the testimony of Am- 
brose is so clear and open, that he which doth not give 
place unto it must needs be thought as a bat, or an 
owl, or some other night-bird, to delight in darkness. 
His saying is, that the elders fell away by the ambi- 
tion of the doctors ; whereby opposing the elders to 
doctors which taught, he plainly declare th that they 
had not to do with the word : whereupon it is mani- 
fest that it was the use, in the best Reformed churches, 
certain hundred years after the times of the apostles, to 
have an eldership which meddled not with the word, 
nor administration of sacraments.f 

The testimony of the Rev. Richard Greenham, a 
divine of the Church of England, who flourished in 
the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and who was greatly 
revered both for his learning and piety, is very une- 
quivocal and pointed on this subject. It is in these 
words : — " The Apostle St. Paul doth notably amplify 
the honour due to the true and faithful minister. The 
elders that rule well, (saith he,) let them be had in 
double honour, specially they which labour in the word 
and doctrine, 1 Timothy v. 17. As if he should say, 
let those elders which are appointed to watch and look 
to the manners and behaviour of the children of God, 

* Cartwright's Commentary on the New Testament — against 
the Rheraists. 

f Second reply. Part second, p. 44. 4to. 1577. 


if they execute this charge faithfully, be had in double 
honour ; but above all let the faithful ministers, such as 
labour in the word be honoured : for why ? the other 
are overseers of your outward behaviour, but these have 
another manner of office ; they watch over your souls 
which tendeth to the salvation both of body and soul." 
And again, — " The rulers of the church are called the 
church to whom discipline appertaineth. Not the 
whole campany of the Jews, but the rulers of the 
Synagogue are called the church of the Jews."* 

The celebrated Estius, the learned Popish expositor 
and Professor at Douay, in his commentary on 1 Tim. 
V. 17, delivers the following opinion : — " From this pas- 
sage it may manifestly be gathered that in the time of 
the apostles there were certain presbyters in the 
church who ruled well, and were worthy of double 
honour, and who yet did not labour in the word and doc- 
trine; neither do the heretics of the present day (mean- 
ing the Protestants) deny this." And in speaking of 
the establishment of this class of elders in Geneva, 
about half a century before he wrote, he seems only to 
blame Calvin for considering and styling them laymen. 
He expresses a decisive opinion that the elders spoken 
of by Paul in this place were ecclesiastical men, set 
apart by ecclesiastical rites, and devoted to eccle- 
siastical duties; but they did not preach. And he 
explicitly acknowledges that Ambrose, in the fourth 
century, speaks of such elders as having existed long 
before his day. It is worthy of remark, that the same 
learned Romanist, in another work, not only avows, in 
the most distinct manner, his belief in the apostolic 
appointment of non-preaching elders, and quotes 
1 Tim. V. 17, in support of his opinion; but he also 
refers to Jerome and Augustine as witnesses to the 
same fact.f 

The opinion of the learned Professor Whitaker, a 

* Works, pp. 352. 842. fol. 1612. 

f Estii Sententiarura Commentaria. Lib. iv. Par. 2. Sect. 21. 


divine of the Church of England, who flourished in the 
reign of Queen Elizabeth, as to the true meaning of 
1 Tmothy v. 17, was given at length in a preceding 
page. The same distinguished divine, in writing against 
Dury, expresses himself thus concerning the office 
under consideration: — "Art thou so ignorant as not to 
know that in the Church of Christ there ought to be 
elders who should devote themselves to the work of 
government alone, and not to the administration of 
the word or sacraments, as we are taught in 1 Tim. 
V. 17?"* 

To these testimonies might be added many more, 
from learned men of the same distinguished character 
with those already mentioned, and to the same effect. 
Chemnitius of Germany; Salmasius of Holland; 
Marloratus and Danaeus, of France; Hemmingius 
of Denmark,f — with a long list of similar names, 
might all be cited as warm advocates of the class of 
elders under consideration, and almost all of them 
decisive advocates of its divine authority. 

Nor are these individual suffrages, though numerous 
and unequivocal, all that can be alleged in favour of our 
cause. The great body of the Protestant churches, 
when they came to organize their several systems in a 
state of separation from the Papacy and from each 
other, differing as they did in many other respects, 
were almost unanimous in adopting and maintaining 
the office of ruling elder. Instead of this office being 
confined, as many appear to suppose, to the ecclesias- 
tical establishments of Geneva and Scotland, it was 
generally introduced with the Reformation, by Lu- 
therans as well as Calvinists, and is generally retained 
to the present day in almost all the Protestant churches 
excepting that of England. Those of France, Ger- 
many, Holland, Switzerland, &c., received this class 

* Contra Durseum, Lib. ix. p, 807. 

f See these writers, as well as a number of others, referred 
to in the Politicae Ecclesiasticse of Voetius, par. ii. lib. ii. 
tract, iii. 


of elders early, and expressly represented them in their 
public confessions, as founded on the word of God. 
It is probably safe to affirm, that at the period of the 
Reformation, more than three-fourths of the whole 
Protestant world declared in favour of this office, not 
merely as expedient, but as warranted by Scripture, 
and as necessary to the order and edification of the 

Does all this, it may be confidently asked, look like 
the office in question being a mere Genevan innovation? 
How shall we reconcile with this extraordinary position 
the undoubted fact that Lutherans and Reformed in 
every part of Europe, those who never saw Calvin 
as well as those who were within the sphere of his ac- 
quaintance and influence; nay, some of those who died 
before the illustrious Reformer of Geneva ever appeared 
at all, either as a writer or preacher, — are found among 
the decisive, zealous advocates of the office in question, 
and quoting, as of conclusive authority in its favour, 
the principal passages of Scripture, and the principal 
Father, relied on by Presbyterians to establish its 
apostolical warrant, and its actual existence in the early 
ages of the ancient church ? Truly it is difficult to 
conceive how any one who seriously and impartially 
weighs these facts, can resist the impression that an 
Institution, in behalf of which so many eminently 
learned and pious men ofdifferent and distant countries, 
without concert with each other, and without any com- 
mon interest to serve, in reference to this matter, have 
so remarkably concurred in opinion, must have some 
solid foundation both in the inspired volume, and in 
the nature and necessities of the church. 



While we justly attach so much importance to the 
persons and services of the Reformers, and recur with 
the deepest reverence to their opinions, we owe scarcely 
less respect to the judgment of a number of other men 
who have lived since their time, and of whom the 
world was not worthy; — men whose testimony can 
never be quoted but with veneration, and whose charac- 
ters give an ample pledge of research, at once profound 
and honest. To the decision of a few of these illustrious 
men on the subject before us, the attention of the reader 
is respectfully requested. 

The decisive opinion of Dr. Owen, undoubtedly one 
of the greatest divines that ever adorned the British 
nation, in favour of the scriptural warrant of the office 
of ruling elder was given in a preceding section, and 
need not now be repeated. I may however add, that 
the more weight ought to be attached to this opinion 
on account of Dr. Owen's ecclesiastical connections, 
which, as is well known, were by no means adapted to 
give him a bias on the side of Presbyterian order. 

The venerable and eminently pious Richard Bax- 
ter was no Presbyterian. Yet he expresses himself in 


the following very unequivocal language on the subject 
under consideration. When I plead that the order of 
subject presbyters (or lay-elders) was not instituted 
in Scripture times, and consequently that it is not of 
divine institution, I mean that, as a distinct office, or 
species of church ministers, it is not a divine institution, 
nor a lawful institution of man ; but that among men 
in the same office, some might prudentially be chosen 
to an eminency of degree, as to the exercise ; and that, 
according to the difference of their advantages, there 
might be a disparity in the use of their authority and 
gifts, I think was done in Scripture times, and might 
have been after, if it had not then. And my judgment 
is, that ordinaril}', every particular church (such as 
our parish churches are) had more elders than one, 
but not such store of men of eminent gifts, as that all 
these elders could be such. But as if half a dozen of 
the most judicious persons of this parish were ordained 
to be elders of the same office with myself; but be- 
cause they are not equally fit for public preaching, should 
most employ themselves in the rest of the oversight, 
consenting that the public preaching lie most upon me, 
and that I be the moderator of them, for order in cir- 
cumstantials. This I think was the true Episcopacy 
and presbytery of the first times."* 

Although it may be doubted whether this venerable 
man be correct in his whole view of this subject, yet it 
will be observed by every attentive reader, that in main- 
taining the existence of a plurality of elders in each 
church in primitive times, and that a great part of these 
elders were not in fact employed in preaching, but 
in inspecting and ruling, he concedes every thing that 
can be deemed essential in relation to the office which 
we are considering. 

The Puritan Congregationalists of England, about 
the year 1605, in the summary of their faith and 
order, entitled English Puritanism, drawn up by the 

* Disputations of Church Government. — Advertisement, pp. 
4, 5, 4 to. 1659, 


venerable Mr. Bradshaw, translated into Latin for the 
benefit of the foreign Protestants by the learned Dr. 
Ames, and intended to express the sense of the general 
body of the Puritans, speak thus on the subject of 
ruling elders. 

" Since even in the best constituted churches, they 
know that not a few enormous offences will arise, which, 
if not timely met, will do injury both to those who 
believe, and those who are inquiring; while, at the 
same time, they see that the authority of a single per- 
son in a parish, resembling the papal, is contrary to 
the will of Christ : they think, as the case itself re- 
quires, and as appointed of God, that others also 
should be selected from the church, as officers, who 
may be associated with the ministers in the spiritual 

" These are inspectors, t^'Tif^yircn, a kind of censors, 
whose duty it is, together with the ministers of the 
word, as well to watch over the conduct of all the 
brethren, as to judge between them. And they think 
that this office is instituted that each may take the 
more heed to himself and his ways, while the ministers 
enjoy more leasure for study and devotion, and obtain, 
through the assistance of their coadjutors, a more 
accurate view of the state of the flock ; since it is the 
peculiar duty of the inspectors to be always watchful 
over the manners and conduct of all the members of 
the church." 

" To this office they think that none should be pre- 
ferred but men very eminent for gravity and prudence ; 
established in the faith; of tried integrity; whose sanc- 
tity of life and upright example are well known to the 
whole society." 

In the choice of these elders, respect should always 
be had to their outward circumstances. They should 
be able to support themselves in some repectable 
manner ; though it will not be an objection to them 


that tbey pursue some mechanical art, provided they 
be morally qualified."* 

Nor were these venerable men the only Independents 
who declared, in the most decisive manner, in favour of 
this class of officers. The celebrated Dr. Thomas 
Goodwin, oneof the Westminster Assembly of Divines, 
and who is styled by Anthony A. Wood, a very 
" atlas and patriarch of Independency," is well known 
to have been one of the most learned and influential 
Independents of the seventeenth century, and one of 
the most voluminous and instructive writers of his 
class. In his " Church Order explained, in a way of 
Catechism," the following passage occurs; — " What 
sort of bishops hath God set in his church ?" Answer. 
Two; some pastors and teachers; some ruling elders, 
under two heads ; some labour in word and doctrine, 
and of those, some are pastors, some teachers ; others 
rule only, and labour not in the word and doctrine." 
Again ; What is the office and work of the ruling 
elder ? Answer. Seeing the kingdom of God is not 
of this world, but heavenly and spiritual, and the 
government of his kingdom is not lorldly, but stewardly 
and ministerial ; and to labour in the ministry of ex- 
hortation and doctrine is the proper work of the pas- 
tors and teachers ; it remaineth, therefore, to be the 
office and work of the ruling elders to assist the pas- 
tors and teachers in diligent attendance to all other 
aids of rule besides exhortation and doctrine, as be- 
cometh good stewards of the household of God. As, 
first, to open and shut the doors of God's house, by 
admission of members, by ordination of officers, by ex- 
communication of notorious and obstinate offenders. 
Secondly ; to see that none live in the church inordin- 
ately, without a calling, or idle in their calling. 
Thirdly; to prevent and heal offences whether in life 
or doctrine, that might corrupt their own church, or 
other churches. Fourthly; to prepare matters for the 

* Neal's History of the Puritans, vol. i. p. 449. 4to. edit. 


church's consideration, and to moderate the carriage of 
all matters in the church assemblies. Finally, to feed 
the flock of God by a word of admonition, and, as they 
shall be called, to visit and pray with their sick brethren. 
The ground of all this is laid down in Romans xii. 8. 
where the apostle, besides him who exhorteth and 
teacheth, maketh mention of another officer, who ruleth 
with diligence, and is distinct from the pastors and 
teachers, and that is the sum of his work to rule with 
diligence. Thus you see the whole duty of these ruling 
elders, and how they are to assist the pastors and 
teachers in all other acts of rule besides word and doc- 
trine. Use 1. From hence observe the great bounty 
of God unto pastors and teachers, that God hath not 
left them alone in the church, as Martha complains to 
Christ that Mary had left her alone to serve : the min- 
isters of the church have no such cause to complain : 
for, as he gave the Levites to the priests to help them 
in their service, so hath he given ruling elders to such 
as labour in the word and doctrine, that they might 
have assistance from them in ruling the church of God. 
Use 2. It may serve to answer a cavil that some have 
against this office, who say, that if God hath given 
these officers to the church, he would then have set 
down the limits of these officers, and not have sent them 
forth with illimited power. To which it is answered, 
that their power is strongly limited, as a stewardly 
or ministerial power and office. It is the power of the 
keys, which Christ hath expressed in his word, and it 
consisteth in those things that have been spoken of 
God's house, to open and shut the doors of God's house, 
by admission of members, &c. This is such a rule as 
is no small help to the spirits and hearts of those who 
labour in doctrine ; and no small help it is also to the 
whole church of God ; and when they are wanting, 
many evils will grow, and those without the possibility 
of redress and amendment, much idleness, much con- 
fusion, many offences. Though other ministers have 


been in the church, we may see how much, in the want 
of these officers, the churches have been corrupted."* 

The character of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, one of 
the most learned and pious fathers of New- England, 
and a distinguished advocate of Independency, is too 
well known to require remark. In his work entitled 
" A Survey of Church Discipline," &c., he speaks thus 
of the office under consideration : — " We begin with 
the ruling elder's place, for that carries a kind of sim- 
plicity with it. There be more ingredients required to 
make up the office of pastor and doctor; and therefore 
we shall take leave to trade in the first, quo simplicius 
ac prius. That there is such an office and officer ap- 
pointed by Christ, as the Scriptures are plain to him 
whose spirit and apprehension is not possessed and fore- 
stalled with prejudice, the first argument we have 
from Romans xii. 7, which gives in witness to this 
truth, where all these officers are numbered and named 
expressly. The second argument is taken from 1 Cor. 
xii. 28. The scope of the place, and the apostle's in- 
tendment is, to lay open the several offices and officers 
that the Lord hath set in his church, and so many 
chief members out of which the church is constituted 
as an entire body." And after making some other 
remarks for the right discovery of the apostle's proceed- 
ing and purpose, he adds: — " From which premises, 
the dispute issues thus: — As apostles, prophets, and 
teachers are distinct, so are helps and governments 
distinct : for the spirit puts them in the same ranks, as 
having a parity of reason which appertains to them all. 
But they were distinct offices, and found in persons as 
distinct officers, as verse 30 — Are all apostles ? Are 
all teachers ? Therefore, the same is true of gover- 
nors. A third argument is taken from the famous place, 
I Timothy V. 17, which is full to our purpose in hand, 
and intended by the Holy Spirit of the Lord to make 

* Church order explainad, &c., pages 16, 19, 22; to be found 
in the 4th vol of his Works, four vols. fol. London, 1697. 


evident the station and office of ruling elders, unto 
the end of the world."* 

The praise of the Rev. John Cotton, one of the most 
distinguished of the first ministers of New-England, 
was in all the churches in his time. In a small work 
entitled " Questions and Answers on Church Govern- 
ment, begun 25th Nov. 1634," the following passages 
occur ; — " Q. What sorts of ministers or officers hath 
God set in his Church ? A. The ministers and officers 
of the Church are some of them extraordinary, as apos- 
tles, prophets, evangelists ; some ordinary, as bishops, 
and deacons. Q. What sorts of bishops hath God 
ordained in his Church ? A There are three sorts of 
them, according as there be three sorts of elders in the 
Church, though under two heads ; some pastors, some 
teachers, some ruling elders. That is to say, such 
elders as labour in the word and doctrine, and such as 
rule in the Church of God ; 1 Tim. i. 13 ; 1 Cor. xii, 
28 ; Rom. xii. 7, 8 ; 1 Tim. v. 17. Q. What is the 
work of a ruling elder ? A. Seeing the kingdom of 
Christ is not of this world, but heavenly and spiritual ; 
and the government of his kingdom is not lordly, but 
stewardly, and ministerial ; and to labour in the ad- 
ministration of exhortation and doctrine, is the proper 
work of pastor and teacher ; it remains to be the office 
of the ruling elder to assist the pastor and teacher in 
all other acts of rule besides, as becomes good stewards 
of the household of God. And, therefore, to put in- 
stances, as. First; To open and shut the doors of God^s 
house, by admission of members, by ordination of 
officers, by excommunication of notorious and obstinate 
offenders. Secondly; To see that none live in the 
Church inordinately, without a calling, or idly in their 
calling. Thirdly; To prevent or heal offences. Four- 
thly; To prepare matters for the Church's considera- 
tion, and to moderate the carriage of all things in the 
Church assemblies. Fifthly; To feed the flock of God 

* Survey &c., part ii. pp. 6, 8, 10, 11 ; 4to London^ 161:8. 


with the word of admonition, and, as they shall be 
called, to visit and pray over the sick brethren."* 

The venerable John Davenport, it is well known, 
held a distinguished place among the early lights of 
the Massachusets and Connecticut churches. In a 
treatise entitled " The Power of Congregational 
Churches asserted and vindicated, &c.," although his 
plan did not require, or even admit, that he should treat 
expressly and at length on the officers of the church; 
yet he repeatedly, and in the most unequivocal manner 
alludes to the office of ruling elder, as belonging to the 
church by divine appointment ; as altogether distinct 
from the office of both teaching elder and deacon ; and 
as being of indispensible importance to the edification 
of the church.f 

Nor are these the sentiments of detached indivi- 
duals merely. They were adopted and published, 
about the same time, by public bodies, in the most 
solemn manner. In a work entitled, "Church Govern- 
ment, and Church Covenant Discussed, in an answer 
of the elders of the several Churches of New-England, 
to two-and-thirty questions sent over to them by 
divers ministers in England, to declare their judgment 
thereon," — in this treatise ruling elders are spoken 
of as of divine institution, and as actually existing, at 
the time, in the churches of New-England. The 
fifteenth question is : — " Whether do you give the ex- 
ercise of all church power of government to the 
whole church, or to the presbyters thereof alone?" 
To which it is answered : — " We do believe that 
Christ hath ordained that there should be a presbytery 
or eldership, 1 Tim. iv. 14; and that in every church, 
Titus i. 5 ; Acts xiv. 28 ; 1 Cor. xi. 28 ; whose work 
is to teach and rule the church, by the word and laws 

* A Treatise, 1. Of Faith; 2. Twelve Fundamental Articles 
of Christian Relig-ion ; 3. A Doctrinal Conclusion ; 4. Questions 
and Answers on Church Government, — pp. 20, 21. 

f The power of Congregational Churches, &c. pp. 56, 81, 9i, 
115. 12mo. London, 1672. 



of Christ, 1 Tim. v. IT, and unto whom, as teaching 
and ruling, all the people ought to be obedient, and 
submit themselves; Heb. xiii. 17. And, therefore, a 
government merely popular, or democratical, (which 
divines and orthodox writers do so much condemn, in 
Morillius, and such like,) is far from the practice of 
these churches, and, we believe, far from the mind of 
Christ." The twenty- third question is, " What au- 
thority or eminency have your preaching elders above 
your sole ruling elders ; or are they both equal ? 
Answer. It is not the manner of elders among us, 
whether ruhng only, or ruling and teaching also, to 
strive for authority or pre-eminence one above another. 
As for the people's duty toward their elders, it is 
taught them plainly in that place, 1 Thess. v. 12, 13, 
asalsoin that of 1 Tim. v. 17; and this word (especially) 
shows them that, as they are to account all their elders 
worthy of double honour, so in special manner their 
teaching or preaching elders."* 

But there is another testimony of the same class, of 
still higher authority. In a volume entitled, " The 
Result of three Synods, held by the Elders and Mes- 
sengers of the Churches of Massachusets Province, 
New-England," there is abundant evidence to the 
same effect. These Synods met in 1648, 1662, and 
1679. Each of them was called by the general court, 
or legislature of the province, and the results published 
by the court, with their sanction. 

The Synod of 1648, consisting of the divines of 
Massachusets and Connecticut, and which drew up 
what is commonly known as the Cambridge Platform, 
distinctly recognized the office under consideration as 
of divine appointment. It speaks as follows, (chapter 
vii.) " The ruling elder's office is distinct from the 
office of pastor and teacher. Ruling elders are not so 
called to exclude the pastors and teachers from ruling; 
because ruling and government is common to these 

* The Power of Congregational Churches, &c. p. 47, 48, 76. 


with the other : whereas attending to teach and preach 
the word, is pecuHar unto the former; Romans xii. 7, 
8, 9; 1 Timothy v. 17; 1 Corinthians xii. 27; Heb- 
rews xiii. 17." 

The Synod of 1679 gave its sanction most unequivo- 
cally to the same doctrine ; not only by unanimously 
renewing their approbation of the Platform of 1648, 
but also by new acts of the most decisive character. 
Two questions proposed to the Synod of 1679 were, 
first, What are the evils that have provoked the 
Lord to bring his judgments on New-England? 
Secondly, What is to be done, that so many evils may 
be removed ? In their answer to the second question, 
the Synod say, ' It is requisite that the utmost endea- 
vours should be used, in order to a full supply of offi- 
cers in the church, according to Christ's institution. 
The defect of these churches on this account, is very 
lamentable ; there being, in most of the churches, only 
one teaching officer for the burdens of the whole con- 
gregation to lie upon. The Lord Christ would not 
have instituted pastors, teachers, and ruling elders, 
(nor the apostles ordained elders in every church,) if 
he had not seen that there was need of them for the 
good of his people. And, therefore, for men to think 
they can do well enough without them, is both to break 
the second commandment, and to reflect upon the wis- 
dom of Christ, as if he did appoint unnecessary offices 
in his church."* It may not be improper to add, that 
this Synod, assembled in consequence of the " general 
court of the colony having called upon all the churches 
therein to send their elders and messengers, that they 
might meet in form of a Synod, jn order to a most 
serious inquiry into the questions propounded to them ; 
and that the result, when proposed, was read once and 
again, each paragraph being duly and distinctly 
weighed in ' the balance of the sanctuary,' and then, 

* Result of Three Synods, &c., p. 109. 


upon mature deliberation, the whole unanimously voted, 
as to the substance and scope thereof."* 

It is well known that in the Westminster Assembly of 
Divines there was a small number of learned and zeal- 
ous Independents, who opposed some of the most 
prominent features in the presbyterian form of govern- 
ment with much ardour and pertinacity, and who pro- 
tracted the debates respecting them for many weeks. 
But it is equally well known, that all the most able of 
those divines were warm advocates of the office of 
ruling elder, not only as a useful office, but as of 
divine institution. The recorded opinion of one of 
them, the Rev. Dr. Goodwin, has been already stated. 
No less pointed in maintaining the same opinion 
were Messieurs Bridge, Burroughs, and Nye, form- 
ing, with Dr. Goodwin, a majority of the whole num- 
ber. And, acccordingly, in their "Reasons against the 
Third Proposition concerning Presbyterial Govern- 
ment," they admit, that " the scripture says much of two 
sorts of elders, teaching and ruling; and in some places 
so plain, as if of purpose to distinguish them; and, 
further, that the whole Reformed churches had these 
different elders. "f 

The following very explicit extract from the well 
known work of the learned Herbert Thorndike, (a 
divine of the Church of England,) on "Religious As- 
semblies," chapter iv. p. 117, will show his opinion on 
the subject before us. Speaking of the language of 
the apostle in 1 Cor. xii. 28, he says: — " There is 
no reason to doubt that the men whom the apostle 
here calleth doctors, are those of the presbyters which 
had the abilities of preaching and teaching the people 
at their assemblies ; that those of the presbyters that 
preached not, are here called by the apostle govern- 

The following remarks of the Rev. Cotton Mather, 

* Preface, pp. 5, 6. 

f Reasons, &c. pp. 3, 40. 


well known as an eminent congregationalist of Mas- 
sachusets, and author of the Magnalia Christi Ame- 
ricana, have too much point, and convey too much 
instruction, to be omitted in this hst of testimonies. 
" There are some who cannot see any such officer as 
what we call a ruling elder, directed and appointed in 
the M^ord of God; and partly through a prejudice 
against the office ; and partly, indeed chiefly, through 
a penury of men well qualified for the discharge of it : 
as it has been heretofore understood and applied, our 
churches are now generally destitute of such helps in 
government. But unless a church have divers elders, 
the church government must needs become either 
prelatic or popular. And that a church's needing but 
one elder, is an opinion, contrary not only to the sense 
of the faithful in all ages, but also to the law of the 
scriptures, where there can be nothing plainer than 
elders who rule well, and are worthy of double honour, 
though they do not labour in the word and doctrine : 
whereas, if there were any teaching elders, who do not 
labour in the word and doctrine, they would be so far 
from worthy of double honour, that they would not be 
worthy of any honour at all. Towards the adjusting 
of the difference which has thus been in the judgments 
of judicious men, some essays have been made, and 
one particularly in such terms as these. Let it be first 
recognized, that all the other church officers are the 
assistants of the pastor, who was himself intrusted with 
the whole care of all, until the further pity and kind- 
ness of our Lord Jesus Christ joined other officers 
unto him for his assistance in it. I suppose none will 
be so absurd as to deny this at least, that all the church 
officers are to take the advice of the pastor with them. 
Upon which I subjoin, that a man may be a distinct 
officer from his pastor, and yet not have a distinct 
office from him. The pastor may be the ruling elder, 
and yet he may have elders to assist him in ruling, and 
in the actual discharge of some things which they are 
able and proper to be serviceable to him in. This 


consideration being laid, I will persuade myself every 
pastor among us will allow me, that there is much 
work to be done for God in preparing of what belongs 
to the admission and exclusion of church members ; in 
carefully inspecting the way and walk of them all, and 
the first appearance of evil with them ; in preventing 
the very beginnings of ill blood among them, and in- 
structing of all from house to house, more privately, 
and warning of all persons unto the things more 
peculiarly incumbent on them: in visiting all the 
afflicted, and informing of, and consulting with the 
ministers, for the welfare of the whole flock. And 
they must allow me, that this work is too heavy for 
any one man ; and that more than one man, yea all 
our churches, do suffer beyond measure, because 
no more of this work is thoroughly performed. More- 
over, they will acknowledge to me, that it is an usual 
thing with a prudent and faithful pastor himself to 
single out some of the more grave, solid, aged brethren 
in his congregation to assist him in many parts of 
this work, on many occasions in a year ; nor will such 
a pastor, ordinarily, do any important thing in his 
government without having first heard the counsels of 
such brethren. In short, there are few discreet pastors 
but what make many occasional ruling elders every 
year. I say, then, suppose the church, by a vote, re- 
commend some such brethren, the fittest they have, 
and always more than one, unto the stated assistance 
of their pastor in the church rule, wherein they may 
be helps unto him, — I do not propose that they should 
be biennial, or triennial only, though 1 know very 
famous churches throughout Europe have them so; 
yea, and what if they should by solemn fasting and 
prayer be commended unto the benediction of God in 
what service they have to do, — what objection can be 
made against the lawfulness? I think none can be 
made against the usefulness of such a thing. Truly, 
for my part, — if the fifth chapter of the first epistle to 
Timothy would not bear me out, when conscience, 


both of my duty and my weakness, made me desire 
such assistance, I would see whether the first chapter 
of Deuteronomy would not."* 

After these strong attestations in favour of the 
office of ruling elder from the most pious and learned 
of the early Independents, or Congregationalists, of 
New-England — it will naturally occur to every reader, 
as an interesting question, how it came to pass that 
churches which once unanimously held such opinions, 
laid so much stress on them, and practised accordingly, 
for about three-fourths of a century, should have long 
since as unanimously discontinued the office ? The 
first company of emigrants in 1620, brought a ruling 
elder with them ; and the office was universally re- 
tained for many years afterwards. Yet in 1702, when 
Dr. Cotton Mather published the first edition of his 
Magnalia, it had been, as would seem from the 
quotation just made, in a great measure laid aside; and 
before the middle of the eighteenth century, it had 
entirely disappeared from the churches of New- Eng- 
land. A well informed and discerning friend has 
suggested that the chief reason of this remarkable fact 
is probably to be traced to another fact alluded to in the 
following extract. In a small volume printed in Bos- 
ton, in 1700, and entitled, "The Order of the Gospel, 
professed and practised by the Churches of Christ in 
New-England, &c.;" by Increase Mather, President 
of Harvard College, and teacher of a church in 
Boston, — in this work, one of the questions discussed 
is, " Whether or not our brethren, and not the elders 
of the churches only, are to judge concerning the 
qualifications and fitness of those who are admitted into 
their communion ?" In answering it, he says : — " If only 
elders have power to judge who are fit to come to the 
sacrament, or to join to the churches, then, in case 
there is but one elder ir a church, (as there are very 
few churches in New-England that have more elders 

* Magnalia, &c. Book v. part ii. p. 206, 207, 8vo. edition, p. 


than one,) the sole power will reside in that one man's 
hands."* On this passage, the friend above referred to 
remarks, " I am inclined to think that he here means 
ruling elders; for, 1. Several churches (whether in 
consequence of the recommendation of the Synod of 
1679, I do not know) had then two ministers. 2. This 
question and answer of Dr. I. Mather's is annexed to 
a reprint in Boston (now lying before me) of 'A Vin- 
dication of the divine authority of ruling elders in the 
Church of Christ asserted by the ministers and elders, 
niet together in a provincial assembly, Nov. 2d. 1649, 
and printed in London, 1650.' But whether this was 
his meaning or not, it is abundantly evidentfrom various 
other sources, that the churches of New-England, while 
they retained the office of ruling elder, had but one 
such elder at a time, and his business was especially 
to attend to discipline. The office was, of course, an 
unwelcome one ; and it became more and more difficult 
to find men willing to assume it." 

It appears, then, that our excellent brethren, the 
Puritan Independents, while they zealously maintained 
the divine warrant, and the great importance of the 
ruling elder's office, misapprehended its real nature, 
and placed it under an aspect, before the churches, 
evidently adapted to discredit and destroy it. Instead 
of appointing a plurality of these ruling elders, they 
seldom or never had more than one in each church; 
and instead of uniting the pastor with him, and forming 
a regular judicial bench for regulating the affairs of the 
church, they seemed to have placed each in a sphere 
entirely separate and independent of each other ; nay, 
to have made the offices of teacher and ruler wear 
an appearance of being rivals for influence and power. 
Certain it is, that the views entertained by each of his 
proper department of duty often, in fact, brought them 
into collision, and made the situation of the ruler both 
uncomfortable and useless. Can it be matter of surprise, 

* Order of the Gospel, &c, p. 25. 


that, in these circumstances, the office of ruh'ng elder 
in the conorreo'ational churches of New-Ensfland 
gained but Httle favour with the body of the people, 
that it came to be considered as at once odious and 
useless, would be undertaken by few, and, at length, 
fell into entire disuse ? 

The testimony of the Rev. Dr. John Edwards, an 
eminently pious and learned divine of the Church of 
England, who flourished during the latter half of the 
seventeenth century, is equally decisive in favour of this 
office. His lan<Tua2:e is as follows : — 

" This office of a ruling elder is according to the 
practice of the church of God among the Jews, his 
own people. It is certain that there was this kind of 
elders under that economy. — There were two sorts of 
elders among the Jews, the ruling ones, who go- 
verned in their assemblies and synagogues, and the 
teaching ones who read and expounded the Scriptures. 
Accordingly Dr. Lightfoot, in his harmony of the 
New Testament, inclines to interpret 1 Timothy v. 17, 
of the elders in the Christian congregations, who 
answer to the lay-elders in the Jev^^ish Synagogue. 
For this learned writer, who was well versed in the 
Jewish customs and practices, tells us, that in every 
synagogue among the Jews, there were elders that 
ruled chiefly in the affairs of the synagogue, and other 
elders that laboured in the Tvord and doctrine." 
" And so it was in the Christian Church ; there was a 
mixture of clergy and laity in their consults about 
church matters, as we see frequently in the Acts of 
the Apostles. The Christian Church retained this 
usage, for which they quote St. Augustine's 137th 
Epistle, where he mentions the clergy and the elders, 
and the people. So in his third book against Cresco- 
nius, he mentions deacons and seniors, that is lay- 
elders, for he distinguishes them from other presby- 
ters. One of his Epistles to his Church in Hippo is 
thus superscribed, ' lb the Clergy and the Elders.' 
See chapter 56th, in the fore-named book against Cres- 



conius, where he mentions Peregrinus the Presbyter, 
and the Elders (Seniores.)* And nothing can be 
plainer than that of St. Ambrose — ' Both the syna- 
gogue and, afterwards, the church had their elders, 
without whose counsel nothing was done in the church, 
&c.' Further, we read of these seniors in the writings 
of Optatus p. 41, and in the epistles annexed to him, 
which the reader may consult. Thus it appears that 
this was an ancient office in the church, and not 
invented by Calvin, as some have thought and writ."f 
" And then as to the reason of the thing, there should 
be no ground of quarrelling with this office in the 
church seeing it is useful. It was instituted for the 
ease of the preaching elders, that they might not be 
overburdened with business, and that they might more 
conveniently apply themselves to that employment 
which is purely ecclesiastical and spiritual. Truly if 
there was no such office mentioned in the Scripture, 
we might reasonably wish for such a one, it being so 
useful and serviceable to the great purposes of religion. 
What can be more desirable than that there should be 
one or more appointed to observe the conversation of 
the flock in order to the exercising of discipline. The 
pastor himself cannot be supposed to have an eye on 
every one of his charge; and, therefore, it is fitting that 
out of those who are fellow-members, and daily converse 
with one another, and therefore are capable of ac- 

* It will not escape the notice of the discerning- reader that 
these testimonies from Auo^ustine Ambrose, and Optatus, which 
some have ventured very unceremoniously to treat with con- 
tempt, when brought forward on this subject, are regarded by 
this very learned Episcopalian as evidence of the most conclu- 
sive character. 

•f The old and hacknied allegation, which has been the 
theme of high-toned Episcopalians and Independents for more 
than two hundred years, that Calvin invented and first intro- 
duced ruling- elders, it will be observed is confidently rejected 
by this truly learned Episcopal Divine, who, from his ecclesi- 
astical connection, cannot be supposed to have had any other 
inducement to adopt the opinion which he has expressed than 
his love of truth. 


quainting themselves with their manners and behaviour, 
there should be chosen these elders I am speaking 
of, to inspect the carriage and deportment of the 

The judgment of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Kromayer, 
a very learned Lutheran divine, and Professor of Di- 
vinity in the University of Leipsic, who lived in the 
seventeenth century, is very decisive in favour of the 
apostolical institution of ruHng elders. " Of presby- 
ters, or elders," says he, " there were formerly two 
kinds, those who taught, and those who exercised the 
office of rulers in the church. This is taught in 
1 Timothy v. 17 : Let the elders that rule well be 
accounted worthy of double honour, especially they 
who labour in the word and doctrine. The latter 
were the same as our ministers ; the former, were like 
the members of our consistories."f 

A similar testimony may be adduced from Frede- 
ric Baldwin, another distinguished Lutheran divine 
and professor of the same century, who is no less 
decisive in favour of the class of officers under consi- 
deration. | 

The celebrated John Casper Suicer, an eminently 
learned German divine and professor, in his The- 
saurus Ecclesiasticus, after speaking particularly of 
teaching presbyters or elders, in the first place, pro- 
ceeds to speak of another class of elders, who (he 
says,) " chosen from among the people, (or laity,) are 
united with the pastors, or ministers of the word, that 
they may be guardians of the discipline of the church. 
To these the Apostle Paul refers in 1 Timothy v. 17, 
where, by the elders who labour in the word and 
doctrine, he evidently understands that class of elders 
of which we have spoken in the preceding section ; and 

* Theologia Reformata, \ A. i. Ninth Article of the Creed, pp. 
526, 528. 

f Historia Ecclesiastica, aiictore Hieronymo Kromayero, 
D.D. S.S. T. D. in Acad. Leips. 4to. p. 59. 

% Fred. Balduini Institut. Ministrorum, Verbi cap. 10. 



by those who rule well, he plainly refers to the class of 
which we now speak. For if he had intended to speak 
of only one class, why did he add, especiall}^ those who 
labour in the word and doctrine ? This class are also 
designated by the term '7t^oigra,^ivwg, in Romans xii. 8. 
and by the term m^iq^^mtig, in 1 Corinthians xii. 29 

The very explicit testimony of Dr. Whitby, of the 
Church of England, was produced in a preceding 
chapter, when we were discussing the scriptural evi- 
dence in favour of the office under consideration. It 
need not, therefore, here be repeated, excepting simply 
to remind the reader of its decisive character. The 
concessions also of Bishop Fell, the Rev. Mr. Marshall, 
and the celebrated Mr. Dodwell, of the same church, 
will also in this connection be borne in mind. They 
may be found in the fourth chapter, in connection with 
the testimony from the fathers. 

The pious and exellent Dr. Watts, though not a 
presbyterian, must be considered as indirectly doing 
homage to this part of the presbyterian system, when 
he says, (in his Treatise on the Foundation of the 
Christian Church, p. 125,) " If it happens that there is 
but one minister or presbyter in a church, or if the 
ministers are young men of small experience in the 
world, it is useful and proper that some of the eldest, 
gravest, and wisest members be deputed by the church, 
to join with and assist the ministers in the care and 
management of that affair, (the admission and exclu- 
sion of members.") 

The Rev. Dr. Doddridge, universally known as an 
eminently learned and pious divine of England, of the 
Independent denomination, in reference to the office in 
question speaks thus : — " It seems to be solidly argued, 
from 1 Timothy V. 17, that there were in the primitive 
church, some elders who did not use to preach. No- 
thing very express is said concerning them : only it 
seems to be intimated, James v. 14, that they prayed 

* Suiceri Thesaurus Ecclesiasticus, Art. U^iaQvrsQOi. 


with the sick. It may be very expedient, even on the 
principles of human prudence, to appoint some of the 
more grave and honourable members of the society to 
join with the pastor in the oversight of it, who may 
constitute a kind of council with him, to deliberate on 
affairs in which the society is concerned, and prepare 
them for being brought before the church for its 
decision, to pray with the sick, to reconcile dif- 
ferences, &c."* 

The same distinguished ^\Titer, in his commentary 
on 1 Timothy v. 17, has the following remark : — " Es- 
pecially they who labour, &c. This seems to intimate 
that there were some who, though they presided in the 
church were not employed in preaching, Limborch, 
indeed, is of opinion that y-o^ioivng signifies those who 
did even fatigue themselves with their extraordinary 
labours, which some might not do, who yet in the 
general presided well, supposing preaching to be a 
part of their work. But it seems to be much more 
natural to follow the former interpretation." 

The celebrated Professor Neander, of Berlin, was 
mentioned in a preceeding chapter as probably the 
most profoundly learned Christian antiquarian now 
living. In addition to the quotation from him pres- 
ented in that chapter, the following, from the same 
work, is worthy of notice. 

" That the name g-r/frxo^ro?, was of the same significa- 
tion with ■TTQsafivre^os, is manifest from those places in 
the New Testament where these words are exchanged 
the one for the other; Acts xx. 17, 28. Tit. i. 5, 7; 
and from those passages where, after the office of 
bishop, that of deacon is mentioned ; so that no other 
office can be imagined between them. If the name 
s'TrtaKOTTog had been used to distinguish any of these 
elders from the rest, as a ruler in the church senate, 
a primus inter pares this use of it interchangeably 
with 7r^£ff/3yrg^o? would not havc obtained." 

* Lectures on Divinity, Proposition 150, Scholium 5th, 

2 M 


" These presbyters, or bishops, had the oversight of 
the whole church, in all its general concerns ; but the 
office of teaching was not appropriated exclusively to 
them ; for, as we have above remarked, all Christians 
had a right to speak in their meetings for the edifica- 
tion of the members. It does not follow from this, 
however, that all the church members were capable 
of giving instruction : and it is important to distin- 
guish a faculty for instruction which was under the 
command of an individual, from the miraculous and 
sudden impulses of inspiration, as in prophecy, and the 
gift of tongues; and which might be bestowed upon 
those not remarkably favoured by natural gifts. The 
care of the churches, the preservation and extension 
of pure evangelical truth, and the defence of it against 
the various forms of error, which early appeared could 
not be left entirely to depend upon these extraordinary 
and often transient impulses. The weakness of human 
nature to which was committed the treasure of the 
gospel, as in ' earthen vessels,' seemed to render it 
necessary that there should be, in every church, some 
possessed of the natural endowments necessary to in- 
truct their brethren in the truth, to warn and exhort 
them against error, and lead them forward in the way 
of life. Such endowments pre-suppose a previous 
course of instruction, clearness and acuteness of 
thought, and a power to communicate their ideas: 
and when these were present, and the Spirit of God 
was imparted to animate and sanctify, the man became 
possessed of the ' p^ct^/ff^ot §/Sao-x.««A/«?.' Those pos- 
sessed of this xu^ta,u,a., were on this account, calculated 
for all the purposes above alluded to, without exclud- 
ing the remainder from exercising the gift imparted 
to them, of whatever kind it might be. On this ac- 
count, the xct^ioi^a, lilocaKxT^ix;, and the situation of 
teachers, (S;Bot(7;cotA/o/,) who were distinguished by this 
gift, was represented as something entirely distinct and 
peculiar. (1 Cor. xii. 28. xiv. 6. Ephes. iv. 11.) 
All members of a church could, at times, speak be- 


fore their brethren, either to call upon God, or to 
praise him, when so inclined ; but only a few were 
lilct(jKo(,7<oi, in the full sense of that term/' 

" It is very clear, too, that this talent for teaching, 
was different from that of governing, (i. e., xH'^i^"- 
Kv(5e^vms&)s,) which was especially necessary for him who 
took his seat in the council of the church, that is for a 
TT^sa^vre^og or sTrtaKOTTog. One might possess the know- 
ledge of external matters — the tact, the Christian pru- 
dence necessary for this duty, without the mental 
qualities so peculiarly desirable in a teacher. In the 
first apostolic church, from which every thing like 
mere arbitrary arangements concerning rank were 
very distant, and all offices were looked upon only as 
they promised the attainment of the great end of the 
Christian faith, the offices of teacher and ruler, 
It^otaKx-hog and '71-0'f^yiv were separated. For this distinc- 
tion, see Romans xii. 7, 8. In noticing this well 
defined distinction, we may be led to the opinion, that 
originally those called, by way of preference, teach- 
ers, did not belong to the class of rulers, or overseers. 
Also, it is not clearly proved that they did always 
belong to the class of '^^i<jQ>vTs^ot. Only this is certain 
— that it was considered as desirable that, among the 
rulers there should be those capable of teaching also. 
When it is enjoined upon the presbyters in general, 
as in the farewell of Paul to the Church of Ephesus, 
(Acts XX.) to watch over the church and preserve its 
doctrine pure, it does not necessarily follow that the 
duty of teaching, in its strict sense, was insisted on ; 
but rather a general superintendence of the affairs of 
that body. But when, in the epistle to Titus, it is de- 
manded in an g^r/ffxc^o? that he not only ' hold fast the 
form of sound words ' in his private capacity, but that 
he should be able to strengthen others therein ; to 
overcome opposers, ana ' convince gainsayers,' it seems 
to be implied that he should possess the ' gift of teach- 
ing.' This must have been, in many situations of the 
churches, exposed as they were to errors of every kind. 


highly desirable. And on this account, in 1 Tim. v. 
17, those among the '^^sa'^vn^ot, who united the gift of 
teaching (B/S«o-x«>i/») with that of governing, {x-vfie^uYiais'j 
were to be especially honoured. This distinction of 
the two gifts shows that they were not constantly or 
necessarily united."* 

The same writer says : — " We find another office in 
the apostolic times — that of deacons. The duties of 
this office were from the first only external, (Acts vi.,) 
as it seems to have taken its rise for the sole purpose of 
attending to the distribution of alms. The care of the 
poor, however, and of the sick, and many other exter- 
nal duties were, in process of time, imposed upon those 
in this station. Besides the deacons, there were also 
deaconesses appointed, who could have free access to 
the female part of the church, which was, on account 
of the peculiar manners of the east, denied, to a great 
extent, to men. Here the female had an opportunity 
of exercising her powers for the extension of the true 
faith, without overstepping the bounds of modesty and 
propriety, and in a field otherwise inaccessible. It 
was their duty, too, as experienced Christian mothers, 
to give advice and support to the younger women, as 
seems to have been the case from Tertullian, De Vir- 
gin. Veland. c. 9."t 

Only one authority more shall be adduced on this 
subject, and that shall be from the pen of our vener- 
able and eloquent countryman, the Rev. Dr. D wight, 
whose character for learning, talents, and piety, needs 
no attestation from the writer of this essay. Though 
himself a congregationalist, and without any other 
inducement to declare in favour of ruling elders, than 

* It is worthy of notice that this profound ecclesiastical his- 
torian, in another place, quotes Hilary (Amhrose) as speakinjjf 
of the ruling' elders, in the synagoj^ue, and in the church, and 
interprets him as plainly teaching the distinction here made be- 
tween teaching- and ruling elders, substantially as we have done 
in a preceding chapter. 

f Kirchengeschichte. 


that which the force of truth presented, he expresses 
himself concerninor their office in the followinff une- 
quivocal terms : — " ruling elders are, in my apprehen- 
sion, scriptural officers of the Christian church ; and I 
cannot but think our defection, with respect to these 
officers, from the practice of the first settlers of New- 
England, an error in ecclesiastical government."* 

This array of witnesses m.ight be greatly extended, 
were it proper to detain the reader with further ex- 
tracts. But it is presumed that those which have been 
produced are abundantly sufficient. It will be ob- 
served that no presbyterian has been cited as an au- 
thority in this case. The names, indeed, of multi- 
tudes of that denomination, might have been produced, 
equal to any others that can be shown on the catalogue 
of piety, talents, and learning. But the testimony 
of more impartial witnesses may be preferred. Re- 
course has been had, then, to those who could not 
possibly have been swayed by a presbyterian bias. 
And a sufficiency of such has been produced, it is 
hoped, to make a deep impression on candid minds. 
Romanists, Protestant Episcopalians, Lutherans and 
Independents, have all most remarkably concurred in 
vindicating an office, the due admission and scriptural 
use of which are, perhaps, of more importance to the 
best interests of the church of God, than this, or any 
other single volume can fully display. 

* Theolog^y explained and defended, vol. iv. p. 399. 



By this is meant, that the laws which Christ has 
appointed for the government and edification of his 
people, cannot possibly be executed without such a 
class of officers in fact, whatever name they may bear. 
But that which is the necessary result of a divine in- 
stitution, is of equal authority with the institution 
itself. All powers or instruments really indispensable 
to the faithful and plenary execution of laws which an 
infinitely wise Governor has enacted, must be con- 
sidered as implied in those laws, even should they not 
be formally specified. 

Now, all serious impartial readers of the Bible be- 
lieve, that, besides the preaching of the gospel, and the 
administration of the sacraments, there is very much 
to be done for promoting the order, purity, and edi- 
fication of the church, by the maintenance of a 
scriptural discipline. They believe that the best in- 
terest of every ecclesiastical community requires, that 
there be a constant and faithful inspection of all the 
members and families of the church ; that the negli- 
gent be admonished; that wanderers be reclaimed 


that scandals be removed ; that irrregularities be cor- 
rected; that differences be reconciled; and every pro- 
per measure adopted to bind the whole body together 
by the ties of Christian purity and charity. They 
consider it as vitally important that there be added to 
the labours of the pulpit, those of teaching " from 
house to house," visiting the sick, conversing with 
serious inquirers, catechising children, learning as far 
as possible the character and state of every member, 
even the poorest and most obscure of the flock, and 
endeavouring, by all scriptural means, to promote the 
knowledge, holiness, comfort, and spiritual welfare of 
every individual. They believe, in fine, that none 
ought to be admitted to the communion of the church, 
without a careful examination in reference to their 
knowledge, orthodoxy, good moral character, and 
hopeful piety; that none ought to be permitted to re- 
main in the bosom of the church, without maintaining, 
in some tolerable degree, a character proper for pro- 
fessing Christians ; that none ought to be suspended 
from the enjoyment of church privileges but after a 
fair trial ; and that none should be finally excommuni- 
cated from the covenanted family of Christ, without 
the most patient inquiry, and every suitable effort to 
bring them to repentance and reformation. 

It is no doubt true, that the very suggestion of the 
necessity and importance of discipline in the church 
is odious to many who bear the Christian name. The 
worldly and careless portion of every church consider 
theinterpositionof ecclesiastical inspection andauthority, 
in reference to the lives and conversation of its mem- 
bers, as officious and offensive meddling with private 
concerns. They would much rather retain their ex- 
ternal standing as professors of religion, and, at the 
same time pursue their unhallowed pleasures without 
control. They never v^Jsh to see a minister, as such, 
but in the pulpit ; or any church officers in any other 
place than his seat in the sanctuary. To such persons, 
the entire absence of the class of officers for which we 


are pleading, together with the exercise of all their 
appropriate functions, will be matter rather of felicita- 
tion than regret. Hence the violent opposition made 
to the introduction of ruling elders into the church 
of Geneva, by the worldly and licentious part of her 
members. And hence the insuperable repugnance to 
the establishment of sound and scriptural discipline, 
manifested so repeatedly and to this day, by some of 
the largest national churches of Europe. 

But I need not say to those who take their views of 
the Christian church and its real prosperity from the 
Bible and from the best experience, that enlightened 
and faithful discipline is not only important but 
absolutely essential to the purity and edification of the 
body of Christ. It ought to be regarded as one of the 
most precious means of grace, by which offenders are 
humbled, softened, and brought to repentance ; the 
church purged of unworthy members ; offences re- 
moved; thehonour of Christ promoted; real Christians 
stimulated and improved in their spiritual course; 
faithful testimony borne against error and crime ; and 
the professing family of Christ made to appear holy and 
beautiful in the view of the world. Without wholesome 
discipline for removing offences and excluding the 
corrupt and profane there may be an assembly, 
but there cannot be a church. The truth is, the ex- 
ercise of a faithful watch and care over the purity of 
each other in doctrine, worship, and life, is one of the 
principal purposes for which the Christian church was 
established, and on account of which it is highly prized 
by every enlightened believer. And, I have no doubt, 
it may be safely affirmed, that a large part of all that is 
holy in the church at the present day, either in faith 
or practice, may be ascribed, under God, as much to 
sound ecclesiastical discipline as to the faithful preach- 
ing of the gospel. 

And if the maintenance of discipline be all important 
to the interests of true religion, it is a matter of no less 
importance that it be conducted with mildness, prudence. 


and wisdom. Rashness, precipitancy, undue severity, 
malice, partiality, popular fury, and attempting to en- 
force rules which Christ never gave, are among the 
many evils which have too often marked the dispensa- 
tion of authority in the church, and not unfrequently 
defeated the great purpose of discipline. To conduct 
it aright is undoubtedly one of the most delicate and 
arduous parts of ecclesiastical administration, requiring 
all the piety, judgment, patience, gentleness, maturity 
of counsel, and prayerfulness which can be brought to 
bear upon the subject. 

Now the question is, by whom shall all these multi- 
plied, weighty, and indispensable services be performed ? 
Besides the arduous work of public instruction and 
exhortation, who shall attend to all the numberless and 
ever-recurring details of inspection, warning, and visita- 
tion, which are so needful in every Christian commun- 
ity ? Will any say it is the duty of the pastor of each 
church to perform them all ? The very suggestion is 
absurd. It is physically impossible for him to do it. 
He cannot be every where, and know every thing. He 
cannot perform what is expected from him, and at the 
same time so watch over his whole flock as to fulfil every 
duty which the interest of the church demands. He 
must " give himself to reading ;" he must prepare for 
the services of the pulpit ; he must discharge his various 
public labours ; he must employ much time in private, 
in instructing and counselling those who apply to him 
for instruction and advice; and he must act his part in 
the concerns of the whole church with which he is 
connected. Now, is it practicable for any man, how- 
ever diligent and active, to do all this, and at the same 
time to perform the whole work of inspection and go- 
vernment over a congregation of the ordinary size ? 
We might as well expect and demand any impossibil- 
ity ; and impossibilities the great and merciful Head 
of the church requires of no man. 

But even if it were reasonable or possible that a 
pastor should, alone, perform all these duties, ought he 



to be willing to undertake them ; or ought the church 
to be willing to commit them to him alone ? We know 
that ministers are subject to the same frailties and im- 
perfections with other men. We know, too, that a 
love of pre-eminence and of power is not only natural 
to them, in common with others; but that this principle 
very early after the days of the apostles, began to mani- 
fest itself as the reigning sin of ecclesiastics, and pro- 
duced, first Prelacy, and afterwards Popery, which has 
so long and so ignobly enslaved the Church of Christ. 
Does not this plainly show the folly and danger of 
yielding undefined power to pastors alone ? Is it wise 
or safe to constitute one man a despot over a whole 
church ? Is it proper to intrust to a single individual the 
weighty and complicated work of inspecting, trying, 
judging, admitting, condemning, excluding, and restor- 
ing, without control ? Ought the members of a church 
to consent that all their rights and privileges, in reference 
to Christian communion, should be subject to the will 
of a single man, as his partiality, kindness, and favour- 
itism, on the one hand, or his caprice, prejudice, or 
passion, on the other, might dictate ? Such a mode of 
conducting the government of the church, to say no- 
thing of its unscriptural character, is, in the highest 
degree, unreasonable and dangerous. It can hardly 
fail to exert an influence of the most injurious charac- 
ter both on the clergy and laity. It tends to nurture in 
the former a spirit of selfishness, pride, and ambition ; 
and instead of ministers of holiness, love, and mercy, to 
transform them into ecclesiastical tyrants. While its 
tendency, with regard to the latter, is gradually to 
beget in them a blind implicit submission to clerical 
domination. The ecclesiastical encroachments and 
despotism of former times, already alluded to, read us 
a most instructive lesson on this subject. The fact is, 
committing the whole government of the church to the 
hands of pastors alone, may be affirmed to carry in it 
some of the worst seeds of Popery ; which though, 
under the administration of good men, they may not 


at once lead to palpable mischief, will seldom fail in 
producing in the end the most serious evils, both to 
those who govern and those who obey. 

Accordingly, as was intimated in a preceding chapter, 
we have no example in Scripture of a church being 
committed to the government of a single individual. 
Such a thing was unknown in the Jewish synagogue. 
It was unknown in the apostolic age. And it continued 
to be unknown, until ecclesiastical pride and ambition 
introduced it, and with it a host of mischiefs to the body 
of Christ. In all the primitive churches we find a plu- 
rality of " elders," and we read enough in the early 
records, in some particular cases, to perceive that these 
" elders" were not only chosen by the members of the 
church, out of their own number, as their representa- 
tatives, to exercise over them the functions of inspection 
and ruling; but that, whenever they ceased to discharge 
the duties of their office acceptably, they might be re- 
moved from its actual exercise at the pleasure of those 
by whom they were chosen. Thus plainly evincing 
that the constitution of the primitive church was emi- 
nently adapted to guard against ecclesiastical tyranny; 
and that if that constitution had been preserved, the 
evils of clerical encroachment would have been avoided. 
Accordingly, it is remarkable that the pious Ambrose, a 
venerable father of the fourth century, quoted in a 
former chapter, expressly conveys an intimation of this 
kind, when speaking of the gradual disuse of the office 
of ruling elder. " Which order," says he, " by what 
negligence it grew into disuse, I know not, unless, per- 
haps, by the sloth, or rather by the pride of the 
teachers, who alone wished to appear something." 

" It is a vain apprehension," says the venerable Dr. 
Owen, " to suppose that one or two teaching officers in 
a church, who are obliged to give themselves unto the 
word and prayer, to labour in the word and doctrine, 
to preach in and out of season — would be able to take 
care of, and attend with diligence unto, all those things 
that do evidently belong unto the rule of the church. 


And hence it is, that churches at this clay do live on the 
preaching of the word, and are very little sensible of 
the wisdom, goodness, love, and care of Christ ip the 
institution of this rule in the church, nor are partakers 
of the benefits of it unto their edification. And the 
supply which many have hitherto made herein, by per- 
sons either unacquainted with their duty, or insensible 
of their own authority, or cold, if not negligent in their 
work doth not answer the end of their institution. And 
hence it is, that the authority of government, and the 
benefit of it, are ready to be lost in most churches. 
And it is both vainly and presumptuously pleaded, to 
give countenance unto a neglect of their order, that 
some churches do walk in love and peace, and are 
edified without it ; supplying some defects by the 
prudent aid of some members of them. For it is 
nothing but a preference of our own wisdom, unto the 
wisdom and authority of Christ; or at best an un- 
willingness to make a venture on the warranty of his 
rule, for fear of some disadvantages that may ensure 

If, in order to avoid the evils of the pastor standing 
alone in the inspection and government of his church, 
it be alleged that the whole body of the church 
members may be his auxiliaries in this arduous 
work; still the difficulties are neither removed nor 

For, in the first place, a great majorty of all church 
members, we may confidently say, are altogether un- 
qualified for rendering the aid to the pastor which is 
here contemplated. They have neither the knowledge, 
the wisdom, nor the prudence necessary for the purpose; 
and to imagine a case of ecclesiastical regimen, in which 
every weak, childish, and indiscreet individual, who, 
though serious and well-meaning enough to enjoy the 
privilege of Christian communion, is wholly unfit to be 
an inspector and ruler of others, should be associated 

* True Nature of a Gospel Church, pp. 1 77, 1 78. 


"w ith the pastor, in conducting the delicate and arduous 
work of parochial regulation, is too preposterous to be 
regarded with favour by any judicious mind. Can it 
be believed for a moment, that the all-wise Head of the 
church has appointed a form of government for his peo- 
ple in which ignorance, weakness, and total unfitness 
for the duty assigned them, should always, and almost 
necessarily, characterize a great majority of those to 
whom the oversio^ht and guidance of the church were 
committed ? Surely this is altogether incredible. 

And if this consideration possess weight in regard to 
old and settled churches, established in countries which 
have been long favoured with the light and order of the 
gospel, how much more to Pagan lands, and to 
churches recently gathered from the wilds of Africa, the 
degraded inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands, or the 
miserable devotees of Hindoo idolatry ? If in the best 
instructed and best regulated churches in Christendom, 
a majority of the members are utterly unqualified to 
participate in the government of the sacred family, 
what can be expected of those recent, and necessarily 
dubious converts from blind heathenism, who must, of 
course, be babes in knowledge and experience, who are 
surrounded with ignorance and brutality, and have just 
been snatched themselves from the same degradation ? 
Surely, if we may say with propriety of sohie nations 
who have recently thrown off the chains of slavery, to 
which they had long been accustomed, that they were 
not prepared for a republican form of govei'nmen t, with 
still more confidence can we maintain, that, whoever 
may be prepared to take part in the government of the 
church, the poor novices in the situation supposed, are 
totally unqualified. Even if the popular form of eccle- 
siastical polity could be considered as well adapted to 
the case of a people of more enlightened and elevated 
character, which may well be questioned, it must be 
pronounced altogether unfit for a church made up of 
such materials. Now it is the glory of the gospel that 
it is adapted to all people and all states of societv. Of 
2 N 


course, that form of ecclesiastical government which is 
not of a similar stamp, affords much ground of suspicion 
that it is not of God, and ought to be rejected. 

But further ; if the greater part of the members of 
the church were much better qualified than they com- 
monly are for co-operating in its government, v/ould 
their co-operation be likely to be really obtained in a 
prompt, steady, and faithful manner ? All experience 
pronounces that it would not. We know that there 
are few things in the government and regulation of 
the church, more irksome to our natural feelings, than 
doing what fidelity requires in cases of discipline. 
When the ministers of religion are called upon to dis- 
pense truth, to instruct, to exhort, and to administer 
sacraments, they engage in that in which we may sup- 
pose pious men habitually to delight, and to be always 
ready to proceed with alacrit}^ But we may say of 
the business of ecclesiastical discipline, that it is the 
" strange work," even of the pious and faithful. It is, 
in its own nature, an unacceptable and unwelcome 
employment. To take cognizance of delinquencies in 
faith or practice ; to admonish offenders ; to call them, 
when necessary, before the proper tribunal ; to seek 
out and array proof with fidelity ; to drag insidious 
error and artful wickedness from their hiding places ; 
and to suspend or excommunicate from the privileges 
of the church, when the honour of religion, and the 
best interests of the body of Christ call for these 
measures, — is painful work to every benevolent mind. 
It is work in which no man is w^illing to engage, unless 
constrained by a sense of duty. Even those who are 
bound by official obligation to undertake the task, are 
too apt to shrink from it ; but where there is no par- 
ticular obligation lying on any one member of the 
church more than another to take an active interest in 
this work, the consequence will probably be, that few 
will be disposed to engage in the self-denying duty. 
Where all are equally bound, all may be equally back- 
ward, or negligent, without feeling themselves charge- 


able with any special delinquency. And, what is 
worthy of notice, those who will be most apt to go 
forward in this work, and profer their aid with most 
readiness, will generally be the bold, the vain, the 
ardent, the rash, the impetuous, — precisely those who 
are, of all persons living, the most unfit for such an 
employment. But even if it were otherwise ; if all the 
members of the church were equally forward and 
active, what might be expected in a religious com- 
munity, when every member of that community was 
equally a ruler, and when the most ignorant and 
childish busy-body among them might be continually 
tampering with its government, and fomenting disturb- 
ances with as much potency as the most intelligent 
and wise ? The truth is, in such a community, tran- 
quility, order, and peace could scarcely be expected 
long together to have any place. 

We could scarcely have a more instructive comment 
on these remarks than the practice of those churches 
which reject ruling elders. Our Episcopal brethren 
reject them. But they are obliged to have their vestry- 
men and church-wardens, who, though no divine 
warrant is claimed for them, and they are not set 
apart in the same manner or formally invested with 
the same powers with our ruling elders, yet they per- 
form many of the same functions in substance, and 
are in fact official counsellors and helps. True, in- 
deed, these officers are not clothed with the power, and 
seldom perform any acts of ecclesiastical disciphne, 
properly so called ; yet they may be, and sometimes 
perhaps are, consulted on subjects of this nature. 
And where this is not the case, we may say without 
impropriety, that in churches of that denomination 
no discipline is exercised. In the Church of England, 
as is confessed on all hands, no scriptural discipline 
exists. The most profligate and vile are not excluded 
from the communion of the establishment. This is 
deeply lamented b}^ many of the pious members of that 
establishment ; and at an early period, after the com- 


mencement of the Reformation in that country, it was 
earnestly wished and proposed, as we have seen in a 
preceding chapter, to introduce ruling elders, as a 
principal means of restoring and maintaining discipline. 
And although the absence of discipline does not exist 
to the same extent, in the churches of the Protestant 
Episcopal denomination in the United States, yet it 
may be altogether wanting, as to any pure and effi- 
cient exercise, in all those Episcopal churches in which 
some leading pious laymen are not habitually consul- 
ted and employed in maintaining it. A pious minis- 
ter, indeed, of that denomination may, and does, con- 
form to his rubrics, in giving the people proper in- 
struction and warning, as to a suitable approach to the 
communion which he dispenses. But here he is com- 
monly obliged to stop ; or, at any rate, does in prac- 
tice, usually stop. All efficient inspection of the moral 
condition of the whole church, admonishing the care- 
less, bringing back the wanderers, and causing those 
who persist in error or in vice to feel the discipline of 
ecclesiastical correction, is notoriously almost un- 
known in the churches of the denomination to which 
we refer. And this deficiency is manifestly not owing 
to the want of intelligent and conscientious piety in 
many of the ministers of those churches ; but, beyond 
all doubt, to the entire want of an organization which 
alone renders the exercise of a faithful and impartial 
discipline at all practicable. 

Our congregational brethren also reject ruling 
elders. Yet it is well known, that while they adopt a 
form of government which in theory allows to every 
member of the church an equal share in the exercise 
of discipline, their most judicious pastors, warned by 
painful experience of the troublesome character and 
uncertain issues of popular management in delicate 
and difficult cases which involve Christian character, 
are careful to have a committee of the most pious, 
intelligent, and prudent of their church members, who 
consider each case of discipline before-hand in private, 


and prepare it for a public decision ; and thus perform, 
in fact, some of the most important of the duties of 
ruling elders. This is what the venerable Dr. Cotton 
Mather doubtless means, when he says, as quoted in 
a preceding chapter, that " there are few discreet 
pastors but what make many occasional ruling elders 
every year ;" and when he gives it as his opinion, in 
the same connection, that without something of this 
kind, churches must suffer unspeakably with respect 
to discipline. And where nothing of this kind is 
done, the experience of Independent and Congrega- 
tional churches in conducting discipline, it is well 
known, is often such as is calculated to give give deep 
and lasting pain to those who love the peace and order 
of the church. Strife, tumult, and division of the most 
distressing kind, are often the consequence of attempt- 
ing to rid the church of one corrupt member. 

But perhaps it will be said, let the pastor habitually 
call to his aid, in conducting the discipline of the 
church, a few of the most judicious and pious of his 
communicants; those whom he knows to be most 
conscientious and wise in counsel. But neither is this 
an adequate remedy. The pastor may consult such, if 
he please; but he may choose to omit it, and be 
governed entirely by his own counsels. Or, if he con- 
sult any, he may always select his particular friends, 
who he knows will encourage and support him in his 
favourite measures; thus furnishing no real relief in 
the end. How much better to have a bench of assis- 
tant rulers, regularly chosen by the people, and with 
whom he shall be bound to take counsel in all impor- 
tant measures. 

Thus it is that those churches which reject the class 
of officers which it is the object of this essay to recom- 
mend, do practically bear witness that it is impossible 
to conduct discipline in. a satisfactory manner, without 
having a set of individuals virtually, if not formally, 
vested w ith similar powers. Where no such efficient 
substitute is employed, discipline is either in a great 


measure neglected, or its maintenance is attended 
with inconveniences of the most serious kind. In 
other words, the opponents of ruhng elders are obliged 
either to neglect discipline altogether, or, for main- 
taining it, to have recourse to auxiliaries of similar 
character and power, while they deny that there is any 
divine warrant for them. Now, is it probable, is it 
credible, that our blessed Lord and all-wise King and 
Head of his church, and his apostles, guided by his 
own Spirit, should entirely overlook this necessity, and 
make no provision for it ? It is not credible. We 
must, then, either suppose that some such officers as 
those in question were divinely appointed, or that 
means, acknowledged by the practice of all to be indis- 
pensable in conducting the best interests of the church, 
were forgotten or neglected by her divine Head and 
Lord. Surely the latter cannot be imputed to in- 
finite wisdom. 

There are some, however, who acknowledge that 
there ought to be, and must be, in every church, in 
order to the efficient maintenance of discipline, a plu- 
rality of elders. They confess that such a body or 
bench of elders was found in the Jewish synagogue ; 
that a similar eldership existed in the primitive church; 
and that the scriptural government of a Christian con- 
gregation cannot be conducted to advantage without 
it. But they contend that these presbyters or elders 
ought all to be of the teaching class ; that there is no 
ground for the distinction between teaching and ruling 
elders ; that every church ought to be furnished with 
three or more ministers, all equally authorized to 
preach, to administer the sacraments, and to bear 

. It requires little discernment to see that this plan is 
wholly impracticable ; and that if attempted to be car- 
ried into execution, the effect must be, either to de- 
stroy the church, or to degrade, and ultimately to pro- 
strate the ministry. It is with no small difficulty that 
most churches are enabled to procure and support one 


qualified and acceptable minister. Very few would 
be able to afford a suitable support to two ; and none 
but those of extraordinary wealth could think seriously 
of undertaking to sustain three or more. If, therefore, 
the principle of a plurality of teaching elders in each 
church were deemed indispensable, and if a regular 
and adequate training for the sacred office were also, 
as now, insisted on ; and if it were, at the same time, 
considered as necessary that every minister should re- 
ceive a competent pecuniary support, the conse- 
quence, as is perfectly manifest, would be, that nine- 
teen out of twenty of our churches would be utterly 
unable to maintain the requisite organization, and 
must of course become extinct. Nay, the regular 
establishment of gospel ordinances, in pastoral churches, 
would be physically possible only in a very few great 
cities or wealthy neighbourhoods. Surely this cannot 
be the system enjoined by that Saviour who said — 
" to the poor the gospel is preached." 

The only remedy for this difficulty would be to 
reduce the preparation and acquirements for the 
ministry — to make choice of plain illiterate men for 
this office; men of small intellectual and theological 
furniture, dependant on secular employments for a 
subsistence, and, therefore, needing little or no sup- 
port from the churches which they serve. This is 
the plan upon which several sects of Christians pro- 
ceed ; and it is easy to see, that upon this plan the 
feeblest churches may have a plurality of such mini- 
sters as these, and, indeed, any number of them, 
without being burdened by their pecuniary support. 
But, then, it is equally evident that the execution of 
this plan must result in degrading the ministerial 
character, and in finally banishing all well qualified 
ministers from the church. They could no longer 
be " able ministers of the New Testament — workmen 
that need not be ashamed." They could no longer 
" give themselves wholly " to the labours of the sacred 
office. They could no longer " give themselves to 


reading," as well as to exhortation and teaching. In 
short, the inevitable consequence of maintaining, as 
some do, that there must be a bench, that is a plur- 
ality of elders in every church, for the purpose of in- 
spection and government, as well as of teaching ; and, 
at the same time, that all these elders must be of the 
same class, that is, that they must all be equally set 
apart for teaching and ruling, — cannot fail to be, to 
bring the ministerial- character, and of course ulti- 
mately the religion which the ministry is destined to 
explain and recommend, into general contempt. The 
Sandemanians, and a few other sects, have substan- 
tially held the opinion, and made the experiment here 
stated, and invariably, it is believed, with the result 
which has been represented as unavoidable. 

To obviate these difficulties, some have said, let 
deacons, whom all agree to be scriptural officers, be 
employed to assist the pastor in conducting the 
government and discipline of the church. This pro- 
posal, together with some principles connected with it, 
will be considered in a subsequent chapter. All that 
it is deemed necessary or proper to say in this place 
is, that an entirely different sphere of duty is assigned 
to deacons in the New Testament. No hint is given 
of their being employed in the government of the 
church. For this proposal, therefore, there is not the 
shadow of a divine warrant. Besides, if we assign to 
deacons the real office, in other words the appropriate 
functions of ruling elders, what is this but granting the 
thing, and only disputing about the title ? If it be 
granted that there ought to be a plurality of officers 
in every church, whose appropriate duty it is to assist 
the pastor in inspecting and ruling the flock of Christ, 
it is the essence of what is contended for. Their 
proper title is not worth a contest, except so far as it 
may be proper to imitate the language of Scripture. 

If, then, the maintenance of discipline be essential 
to the purity and edification of the church; if en- 
lightened, impartial, and efficient inspection and disci- 


pline, especially over a large congregation, cannot pos- 
sibly be maintained by the pastor alone ; if it would 
be unsafe, and probably mischievous in its influence 
on all concerned, to devolve the whole authority and 
responsibility of conducting the government of a 
church on a single individual ; if it would, especially, 
in all probability essentially injure the clerical char- 
acter to be thus systematically made the depository 
of so much power, without control and without appeal; 
if every other mode of furnishing each church with a 
plurality of rulers besides that for which we contend 
would either deprive a great majority of our churches 
of the means of grace altogether, or, by bringing 
ministers within their reach, reduce and degrade the 
ministerial office far below the standard which the 
scriptures require ; if these things be so, then we are 
conducted unavoidably to the conclusion, that such 
officers as those for which we contend are absolutely 
necessary; that although a church may exist, and 
for a time may flourish without them, yet, that the 
best interests of the church cannot be systematically 
and steadfastly pursued without those, or some other 
officers of equivalent powers and duties. 

But all the difficulties which have been supposed 
are obviated, and all the advantages referred to, 
attained by the plan of employing a judicious class of 
ruling elders in each church to assist in counsel and 
in government. In this plan we have provided a body 
of grave, pious, and prudent men, associated with the 
pastor, chosen out of the body of the church mem- 
bers, carrying with them, in some measure, the feel- 
ings and views of their constituents ; capable of coun- 
selling the pastor in all delicate and doubtful cases; 
counteracting any undue influence or course of 
measures into which his partiality, prejudice, or want 
of information might betray him ; exonerating him at 
once from the odium and the temptation of having 
all the power of the church in his own bauds ; con- 
ducting the difficult cases which often arise in the 


exercise of discipline with the intelligence, calmness, 
and wisdom, which cannot be expected to prevail in a 
promiscuous body of communicants ; and, in a word, 
securing to each church all the principal advantages 
which might be expected to result from being under 
the pastoral care of four or five ministers, vested with 
plenary preaching as well as ruling power; without 
at the same time burdening the church with the pecuni- 
ary support of such a number of ordinary pastors. In 
a word, the insuperable difficulty of doing without this 
class of officers on the one hand, the great and mani- 
fest advantages of having them on the other, and the 
perfect accordance of the plan which includes them 
with that great representative system which has per- 
vaded all well regulated society from its earliest exis- 
tence, and received the stamp of divine approbation — 
form a mass of testimony in favour of the office be- 
fore us, which, independently of other considerations, 
seems amply sufficient to support its claims. 

I shall close this chapter with the following extract 
from Dr. Owen, when speaking of the importance and 
necessity of the office of ruling elders in the church. 
" It is evident," says he, " that neither the purity nor 
the order, nor the beauty or glory of the churches of 
Christ, nor the representation of his own majesty and 
authority in the government of them, can long be 
preserved without a multiplication of elders in them, 
according to the proportion of their respective mem- 
bers, for their rule and guidance. And for want here- 
of have churches of old, and of late, either degenera- 
ted into anarchy and confusion, their self-rule being 
managed with vain disputes and janglings unto their 
division and ruin ; or else giving up themselves unto 
the domination of some prelatical teachers, to rule 
them at their pleasure, which proved the bane and 
poison of all primitive churches ; and they will and 
must do so in the neglect of this order for the 

* Owen's True Nature of a Gospel Church, 4to, p. 178. 


We have thus completed our view of the first part 
of the inquiry before us, viz. our warrant for the office 
of ruling elders. If this office were found in the Old 
Testament economy — if it plainly had a place in the 
apostolic church — if a number of the early fathers 
evidently recognize its existence in their day — if the 
witnesses for the truth in the darkest times, and the 
great body of the Reformers sanctioned and retained 
it as of divine appointment; if some of the most 
learned Episcopal and Independent divines since the 
Reformation, have borne decisive testimony to this 
office as of apostolical authority; and if some such 
office be manifestly indispensable to the purity and 
order of the church, — we may confidently conclude 
that our warrant for it is complete. 



Having considered, so much at large, the warrant 
for the office of ruling elder, chiefly because there is 
no part of the subject more contested; we now pro- 
ceed to other points connected with the general in- 
quiry. And the first of these which presents itself, is 
the Nature and Duties of the office in question. 

The essential character of the officer of whom we 
speak is that of an ecclesiastical ruler. He that 
ruleth let him do it with diligence, is the summary of 
his appropriate functions as laid down in Scripture. 
The teaching elder is indeed also a ruler. In addi- 
tion to this, however, he is called to preach the gos- 
pel and administer sacraments. But the particular 
department assigned to the ruling elder is to co-operate 
with the pastor in spiritual inspection and government. 
The Scriptures, as we have seen, speak not only of 
" pastors and teachers," but also of " governments ;" 
— of " elders that rule well, but do not labour in the 
word and doctrine.'' 

There is an obvious analogy between the office of 
ruler in the church, and in the civil community. A 


Justice of the Peace in the latter has a wide and impor- 
tant range of duties. Besides the function which he 
discharges when called to take his part on the bench 
of the judicial court in which he presides, he may be, 
and often is, employed every day, though less publicly, 
in correcting abuses, compelling the fraudulent to do 
justice, restraining, arresting, and punishing criminals, 
and, in general, carrying into execution the laws 
formed to promote public tranquility and order, 
which he has sworn to administer faithfully. 

Strikingly analogous to this are the duties of the 
ecclesiastical ruler. He has no power, indeed, to 
employ the secular arm in restraining or punishing 
offenders against the laws of Christ. The kingdom 
under which he acts, and the authority which he ad- 
ministers, are not of this world. He has, of course, 
no right to fine, imprison, or externally to molest the 
most profligate offenders against the church's purity 
or peace, unless they be guilty of what is technically 
called, " breaking the peace," that is, violating the 
civil rights of others, and thus rendering themselves 
liable to the penalty of the civil law. And even when 
this occurs, the ecclesiastical ruler, as such, has no 
right to proceed against the offender. He has no 
other than moral power. He must apply to the civil 
magistrate for redress, who can only punish for break- 
ing the civil law. Still there is an obvious analog}^ 
between his office and that of the civil magistrate. 
Both are alike an ordinance of God — both are 
necessary to social order and comfort — and both are 
regulated by principles which commend themselves to 
the good sense and the conscience of those who wish 
well to social happiness. 

The ruling elder, no less than the teaching elder, 
or pastor, is to be considered as acting under the 
authority of Christ, in all that he rightfully does. If 
the office of which we speak was appointed in the 
apostolic church by infinite wisdom ; if it be an ordi- 
nance of Jesus Christ, just as much as that of the 


minister of the gospel, then the former, equally with 
the latter, is Christ's officer. He has a right to speak 
and act in his name; and though elected by the 
members of the church, and representing them in the 
exercise of ecclesiastical rule, yet he is not to be con- 
sidered as deriving his authority to rule from them, 
any more than he who " labours in the word and 
doctrine" derives his authority to preach and ad- 
minister other ordinances from the people, who make 
choice of him as their teacher and guide. There is 
reason to believe that some, even in the Presbyterian 
church, take a different view of this subject. They 
regard the teaching elder as an officer of Christ, and 
listen to his official instructions as to those of a man 
appointed by Him, and coming in his name. But 
with respect to the ruling elder, they are wont to 
regard him as one who holds an office instituted by 
human prudence alone, and, therefore, as standing on 
very different ground in the discharge of his official 
duties from that which is occupied by the " am- 
bassador of Christ." This is undoubtedly an errone- 
ous view of the subject, and a view which, so far as it 
prevails, is adapted to exert the most mischievous 
influence. The truth is, if the office of which we 
speak be of apostolic authority, we are just as much 
bound to sustain, honour, and obey the individual 
who fills it and discharges its duties according to the 
Scriptures, as we are to submit to any other officer or 
institution of our Divine Redeemer. 

We are by no means, then, to consider ruling 
elders as a mere ecclesiastical convenience, or as a set 
of councillors whom the wisdom of man alone has 
chosen, and who may, therefore, be reverenced and 
obeyed as little or as much as human caprice may 
think proper; but as bearing an office of divine ap- 
pointment — as the "ministers of God for good" to 
his church — and whose lawful and regular acts ought 
to command our conscientious obedience. 

The ruling elders of each church are called to 


attend to a public and formal, or to a more private 
sphere of duty. 

With regard to the first, or the public and formal 
duties of their office, they form, in the church to 
which they belong, a bench or judicial court, called 
among us the " church session," and in some other 
Presbyterian denominations, the "consistory;" both 
expressions importing a body of ecclesiastical men, 
sitting and acting together as the representatives, and 
for the benefit of the church. This body of elders, 
with the pastor at their head, and presiding at their 
meetings, form a judicial assembly, by which all the 
spiritual interests of the congregation are to be watched 
over, regulated, and authoritatively determined. Ac- 
cordingly, it is declared in the ninth chapter of our 
Form of Government — " The church session is 
charged with maintaining the spiritual government of 
the congregation, for which purpose they have power 
to inquire into the knowledge and Christian conduct 
of the members of the church, to call before them 
offenders and witnesses, being members of their own 
congregation, and to introduce other witnesses, where 
it may be necessary to bring the process to issue, and 
when they can be procured to attend; to receive 
members into the church ; to admonish, to rebuke, to 
suspend, or exclude from the sacraments, those who 
are found to deserve censure; to concert the best 
measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the 
congregation, and to appoint delegates to the higher 
judicatories of the church." 

This general statement of the powers and duties of 
the church session, it will be perceived, takes in a 
wide range. Or rather, to speak more properly, it 
embraces the whole of that authority and duty with 
which the great Head of the church has been pleased 
to invest the governing powers of each particular con- 
gregation, for the instruction, edification, and comfort 
of the whole body. To the church session it belongs 
to bind and loose; to admit to the communion of the 


church, with all its privileges; to take cognizance of 
all departure from the purity of faith or practice ; to 
try, censure, acquit, or excommunicate those who are 
charged with offences ; to consult and determine upon 
all matters relating to the time, place, and circum- 
stances of worship, and other spiritual concerns; to 
take order about catechizing children, congregational 
fasts or thanksgiving days, and all other observances, 
stated or occasional; to correct, as far as possible, 
every thing that may tend to disorder, or is contrary 
to edification; and to digest and execute plans for 
promoting a spirit of inquiry, of reading, of prayer, 
of order, and of universal holiness among the mem- 
bers of the church. It is also incumbent on them, 
when the church over which they preside is destitute 
of a pastor, to take the lead in those measures which 
may conduce to a choice of a suitable candidate, by 
calling the people together for the purpose of an 
election, when they consider them as prepared to 
make it with advantage. 

Although, in ordinary cases, the pastor of the 
church may be considered as vested with the right to 
decide whom he will invite to occupy his pulpit, either 
when he is prCvSent, or occasionally absent; yet, in 
cases of difficulty or delicacy, and especially when 
ministers of other denominations apply for the use of 
the pulpit, it is the prerogative of the church session 
to consider and decide on the application. And if 
there be any fixed difference of opinion between the 
pastor and the other members of the session, in re- 
ference to this matter, it is the privilege and duty of 
either party to request the advice of their presbytery 
in the case. 

In the church session, whether the pastor be pre- 
sent and presiding or not, every member has an equal 
voice. The vote of the most humble and retiring 
ruling elder, is of the same avail as that of his minis- 
ter. So that no pastor can carry any measure unless 
he can obtain the concurrence of a majority of the 


eldership. And as the whole spiritual government of 
each church is committed to its bench of elders, the 
session is competent to regulate every concern, and to 
correct every thing which they consider as amiss in 
the arrangements or affairs of the church, which ad- 
mits of correction. Every individual of the session 
is, of course, competent to propose any new service, 
plan, or measure, which he believes will be for the 
benefit of the congregation, and if a majority of the 
elders concur with him in opinion, it may be adopted. 
If, in any case, however, there should be a difference 
of opinion between the pastor and the elders, as to the 
propriety or practicability of any measure proposed, 
and insisted on by the latter, there is an obvious and 
effectual constitutional remedy. A remedy, however, 
which ought to be resorted to with prudence, caution, 
and prayer. The opinions and wishes of the pastor 
ought, undoubtedly, to be treated with the most re- 
spectful delicacy. Still they ought not to be suffered, 
when it is possible to avoid it, to stand in the way of 
a great and manifest good. When such an alternative 
occurs, the remedy alluded to may be applied. On 
an amicable reference to the presbytery, that body 
may decide the case between the parties. 

And as the members of the church session, whether 
assembled in their judicial capacity or not, are the pas- 
tor's counsellors and colleagues, in all matters relating 
to the spiritual rule of the church, so it is their official 
duty to encourage, sustain, and defend him in the 
faithful discharge of his duty. It is deplorable when 
a minister is assailed for his fidelity by the profane or 
the worldly, if any portion of the eldership either take 
part against him or shrink from his active and deter- 
mined defence. It is not meant of course, that they 
are to consider themselves as bound to sustain him in 
every thing he may say or do, whether right or wrong : 
but that when they really believe him to be faithful 
both to truth and duty, they should feel it to be their 
duty to stand by him, to shield him from the arrows of 


the wicked, and to encourage him as far as he obeys 

But besides those duties which pertain to ruling 
elders with the pastor, in their collective capacity as 
a judicatory of the church, there are others which 
are incumbent on them at all times in the intervals of 
their judicial meetings, and by the due discharge of 
which they may be constantly edifying the body of 
Christ. It is their duty to have an eye of inspection 
and care over all the members of the congregation, 
and for this purpose to cultivate a universal and inti- 
mate acquaintance, as far as may be, with every family 
in the flock of which they are made "overseers.'' They 
are bound to watch over the childern and youth, and 
especially baptized children, with paternal vigilance, 
recognizing and affectionately addressing them on all 
proper occasions; giving them and their parents in 
reference to them seasonable counsel, and putting in 
the Lord's claim to their hearts and lives, as the children 
of the church. It is their duty to attend to the case of 
those who are serious, and disposed to inquire concern- 
ing their eternal interest; to converse with them, and 
from time to time, to give information concerning them 
to the pastor. It is their duty to take notice of, and 
admonish in private, those who appear to be growing 
careless, or falling into habits in any respect criminal, 
suspicious, or unpromising. It is their duty to visit and 
pray with the sick as far as their circumstances admit, 
and to request the attendance of the pastor on the sick 
and the dying when it may be seasonable or desired. 
It is incumbent on them to assist the pastor in main- 
taining meetings for social prayer, to take part in con- 
ducting the devotional exercises in those meetings; to 
preside in them when the pastor is absent ; and, if they 
are endowed with suitable gifts, under his direction oc- 
casionally to drop a word of instruction and exhortation 
to the people in those social meetings. If the officers 
of the church neglect these meetings, (the importance 
of which cannot be estimated,) there is every reason 


to apprehend that they will not be duly honoured or 
attended by the body of the people. It is the duty 
of ruling elders also to visit the members of the 
church and their families with the pastor, if he request 
it, without him if he do not, to converse with them, 
to instruct the ignorant, to confirm the wavering, to 
caution the unwary, to reclaim the wandering, to en- 
courage the timid, and to excite and animate all classes 
to a faithful and exemplary discharge of duty. It is 
incumbent on them to consult frequently and freely 
with their pastor on the interests of the flock committed 
to their charge ; to aid him in forming and executing 
plans for the welfare of the church ; to give him from 
time to time such information as he may need, to enable 
him to perform aright his various and momentous 
duties, to impart to him with affectionate respect their 
advice, to support him with their influence, to defend 
his reputation, to enforce his just admonitions, and in 
a word, by every means in their power to promote the 
comfort, and extend the usefulness of his labours. 

Although the church session is not competent to try 
the pastor, in case of his falling into any delinquency 
either of doctrine or practice ; yet, if the members 
observe any such delinquency, it is not only their 
privilege, but their duty to admonish him, tended}' 
and respectfully, yet faithfully, in private; and, if 
necessary, from time to time : and if the admonition be 
without effect, and they think the edification of the 
church admits and demands a public remedy, they 
ought to represent the case to the presbytery, as before 
suggested in other cases, and request a redress of the 

But the functions of the ruling elder are not con- 
fined to the congregation of which he is one of the 
rulers. It it his duty at such times, and in such order 
as the constitution of the church requires, to take his 
seat in the higher judicatories of the church, and there 
to exercise his official share of counsel and authority. 
In every Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly of 


the Presbyterian church, at least as many ruling as 
teaching elders are entitled to a place; and in all 
the former, as well as the latter, have an opportunity 
of exerting an important influence in the great concerns 
of Zion. Every congregation, whether provided with 
a pastor or vacant, is entitled besides the pastor, (where 
there is one,) to be represented by one ruling elder, 
in all meetings of the Presbytery and Synod ; and as 
in those bodies vacant congregations and those which 
are supplied with pastors are equally represented each 
by an elder, it is manifest that if the theory of our 
ecclesiastical constitution be carried into effect, there 
will always be a greater number of ruling elders than 
of pastors present. In the General Assembly accord- 
ing to our constitutional plan, the numbers of each are 
precisely equal. 

In these several judicatories the ruling elder has 
an equal vote, and the same power in every respect 
with the pastors. He has the same privilege of ori- 
ginating plans and measures, and of carrying them, 
provided he can induce a majority of the body to con- 
cur in his views ; and thus may become the means of 
imparting his impressions, and producing an influence 
greatly beyond the particular congregation with which 
he is connected, and indeed, throughout the bounds of 
the Presbyterian Church in the United States. This 
consideration serves to place the nature and the impor- 
tance of the office in the strongest light. He who 
bears it, has the interest of the church as a spiritual 
trust as really and solemnly, though not in all respects 
to the same extent, committed to him as the elder 
who " labours in the word and doctrine." He not only 
has it in his power, but is daily called, in the discharge 
of his official duties, to watch over, inspect, regulate, 
and edify the body of Christ ; to enlighten the ignor- 
ant, to admonish the disorderly, to reconcile differences, 
to correct every moral irregularity and abuse within 
the bounds of his charge; and to labour without 
ceasing for the promotion of the cause of truth, piety. 


and universal righteousness in the church to which he 
belongs, and wherever else he has an opportunity of 
raising his voice, and exerting an influence. 

But when it is considered that those who bear the 
office in question are called upon in their turn to sit 
in the highest judicatories of the church, and there to 
take their part in deliberating and deciding on the most 
momentous questions which can arise in conducting 
ecclesiastical affairs — when we reflect that they are 
called to deliberate and decide on the conformity of 
doctrines to the word of God; to assist as judges in 
the trial of heretics, and every class of offenders against 
the purity of the gospel ; and to take care, in their 
respective spheres, that all the ordinances of Christ's 
house be preserved pure and entire ; when, in a word, 
we recollect that they are ordained for the express pur- 
pose of overseeing and guarding the most precious con- 
cerns of the church on earth — concerns which may have 
a bearing, not merely on the welfare of a single indi- 
vidual or congregation, but on the great interests of 
orthodoxy and piety among millions, we may surely 
conclude, without hesitation, that the office which they 
sustain is one, the importance of which can scarcely 
be over-rated, and that the estimate which is com- 
monly made of its nature, duties, and responsibility, 
is far, very far from being adequate. 

If this view of the nature and importance of the 
office before us be admitted, the question very natu- 
rally arises, whether it be correct to call this class of 
elders lay elders, or whether they have not such a 
strictly ecclesiastical character as should prevent the 
use of that language in speaking of them ? This is 
one of the points, in the present discussion, concerning 
which the writer of this essay frankly confesses that 
he has, in some measure, altered his opinion. Once 
he was disposed to confine the epithet clerical to 
teaching elders, and to designate those who ruled 
only, and did not teach, as lay elders. But more 
mature inquiry and reflection have led him first to 


doubt the correctness of this opmion, and finally to 
persuade him that so far as the distinction between 
clergy and laity is proper at all, it ought not to be 
made the point of distinction between these two classes 
of elders, and that when we speak of the one as 
clergymen, and the other as laymen, we are apt to 
convey an idea altogether erroneous, if not seriously 

Some judicious and pious men have, indeed, ex- 
pressed serious doubts whether the terms clergy and 
laity ought ever to have been introduced into our 
theological nomenclature. But it is not easy to see 
any solid reason for this doubt. It is wise to contend 
about terms, when the things intended to be expressed 
by them are fully understood and generally admitted ? 
The only question, then, of real importance to be 
decided here is this. Does the New Testament draw 
any distinct line between those who hold spiritual 
offices in the church, and those who do not? Does 
it represent the functions pertaining to those offices as 
confined to them, or as common to all Christians? 
Now, it seems impossible to read the Acts of the 
Apostles, and the several apostolic epistles, especially 
those to Timothy and Titus, and to examine, in con- 
nection with these, the writings of the " apostolic 
fathers," without perceiving that the distinction be- 
tween those who bore office in the church, and private 
Christians, was clearly made, and uniformly main- 
tained, from the very origin of the church. That the 
terms clergy and laity are not found in the New 
Testament, nor in some of the earliest uninspired 
writers, is freely granted. But is not the distinction 
intended to be expressed by these terms evidently 
found in Scripture and in all the early fathers? 
Nothing can be more indubitably clear. The titles 
of " rulers" in the house of God, " ambassadors of 
Christ," "stewards of the mysteries of God," "bishops, 
leaders, overseers, elders, shepherds, guides, ministers," 
Bic, as distinguished from those to whom they minis- 


tered, are so familiar to all readers of the New 
Testament, that it would be a waste of time to 
attempt to illustrate or establish a point so unquestion- 
able. If the inspired writers every where represent 
certain spiritual offices in the church as appointed by 
God, if they represent those who sustain these offices 
as alone authorized to perform certain sacred functions, 
and teach us to consider all others who attempt to 
perform them as criminal invaders of a divine ordi- 
nance, then surely the whole distinction intended to 
be expressed by the term clergy and laity is evidently 
and most distinctly laid down by the same authority 
which founded the church. 

The word »^>7?o^> properly signifies a lot. And as 
the land of Canaan, the inheritance of the Israelites, 
was divided among them by lot, the word, in process 
of time, came to signify an inheritance. In this figu- 
rative or secondary sense, the term is evidently em- 
ployed in 1 Peter v. 3. Under the Old Testament 
dispensation, the peculiar people of God were called 
(Septuagint translation) his y-'^^n^og, or inheritance. Of 
this we have examples in Deuteronomy iv. 20, and ix. 
29. The term, in both these passages, is manifestly 
applied to the whole body of the nation of Israel as 
God's inheritance or peculiar people. Clemens Ro- 
manus, one of the " apostolic fathers," speaking of the 
Jewish economy, and having occasion to distinguish 
between the priests and the common people, calls the 
latter '^oi,tKoi. Clemens Alexandrinus, towards the close 
of the second century, speaks of the Apostle John as 
having set apart such persons for " clergymen " (x-'^n^ot) 
as were signified to him by the Holy Ghost. And in 
the writings of Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian, the 
terms " clergy" and " laity" occur with a frequency 
which shows that they were then in general use. 
Jerome observes, that ministers are called clerici, either 
because they are peculiarly the lot and portion of the 
Lord, or because the Lord is their lot, that is, their 
inheritance. Hence that learned and pious father 


takes occasion to infer — " That he who is GocFs 
portion ought so to exhibit himself that he may be 
truly said to possess God, and to be possessed by Him."* 
And as we have abundant evidence that ecclesiastical 
men were familiarly called clerici, or " clergymen," 
from the second century, so have the same evidence 
that this term was employed to designate all ecclesias- 
tical men. That is, all persons who had any spiritual 
office in the church, were called by the common name 
of clerici, or " clergymen." It was applied continually 
to elders and deacons, as well as to bishops or pastors. 
Nay, in the third century, when not only the inceptive 
steps of Prelacy became visible, but when the same 
spirit of innovation had also brought in a number of 
inferior orders, such as sub-deacons, readers, acolyths^ 
&c., these inferior orders were all clerici, Cyprian, 
speaking of a sub-deacon, and also of a reader, calls 
them both clerici. The ordination of such persons, 
(for it seems they were all formally ordained) he calls 
ordinationes clericce, and the letters which he trans- 
mitted by them, he styles literce clericce. The same 
fact may be clearly established from the writings of 
Ambrose, Hilary, and Epiphanius, and from the 
canons of the council of Nice. Indeed, there seems 
reason to believe, that in the fourth and fifth centuries, 
and subsequently, the title of clerici was not only 
given to all the inferior orders of ecclesiastical men,, 
but was more frequently and punctiliously applied to 
them than to their superiors, who were generally 
addressed by their more distinctive and honourable 
titles. Those who recollect that learning, during the 
dark ages, was chiefly confined to the ministers of 
rehgion, that few, excepting persons of that profession, 
were able to read and write, and that the whimsical 
privilege, commonly called " benefit of clergy," grew 
out of the rare accomplishment of being able to read,. 
will be at no loss to trace the etymology of the word 

* Epist. 2d. ad. Nepotian, 5. 


clerk (clericLis), or secretary, as used to designate one 
who officiates as the reader and writer of a pubHc body. 

To distinguish the mass of private Christians from 
those who bore office in the church, they were desig- 
nated by several names. They were sometimes called 
T^diKoi — laicii laymen, from '^«'0g, populus ; sometimes 
iltardt, " private men," from i^tog, privatus, (Acts iv. 
13 ;) sometimes BtunKoi, i. e. " seculars," from ^'oc, 
which signifies a secular life. Soon after the apostolic 
age, common Christians were frequently called oiul^sc 
sy.KT^/jgiocgriKoi, " nieu of the church," i. e. persons not 
belonging either to Jewish synagogues, or Pagan 
temples, or heretical bodies, but members of the 
church of Christ. Afterwards, however, the title 
" ecclesiastics" became gradually appropriated to 
persons in office in the church.* 

The quotations made in a former chapter from 
Auijustine, and the writin^rs of some other fathers 
about his time, in which they seem to distinguish 
between the clergy and the elders, may seem to militate 
with the foregoing statement. But in reference to 
these passages, the learned Voetius, while he quotes 
them as decisive of the general fact of the early 
existence of the elders under consideration, supposes 
that the office, in the fourth and fifth centuries, was 
beginning to fall into disuse, and that, of course, 
though it was still found in some churches, it began 
to be spoken of with less respect, and sometimes to 
be denied a place among the offices strictly clerical. f 

But, after all, there is no real difficulty as to this 
point. For although the terms " clergy " and " cleri- 
cal" were pretty generally applied to all classes of 
church officers, even the lowest, in the third, fourth, 
and fifth centuries ; yet this was not always the case. 
Thus, in the Apostolical Canons, which were probably 
composed in the fourth or fifth centuries, there is an 

* See Stephani Thesaurus, and Bingham's Origines Eccle- 

f Politicae Ecclesiasticse, par. ii. lib. ii. tract, iii. 
2 P 


express distinction made between the deacons and the 
clergy. In the third and fourth Canons, having 
ordered what sorts of first-fruits should be sent to the 
church, and what to the home of the bishop and 
presbyters, it ordains as follows : — " Now it is mani- 
fest that they are to be divided by them among the 
deacons and the clergy." From cases of this kind 
we may evidently infer, that although all kinds of 
ecclesiastical officers were generally ranked among 
the clergy during the period just mentioned, yet this 
was not invariably so, and of course no inference can 
be drawn from occasional diversity of expression as 
to this matter. 

Now, if this historical deduction of the titles clergy 
and laity be correct, it is plain that, according to 
early and general usage, ruling elders ought not to be 
styled laymen, or lay elders. They are as really in 
office — they as really bear an office of divine appoint- 
ment — an office of a high and spiritual nature, and 
an office, the functions of which cannot be rightfully 
performed but by those who are regularly set apart 
to it — as any other officer of the Christian church. 
They are as really a portion of God's lot — as really 
set over the laity or body of the people, as the most 
distinguished and venerated minister of Jesus can be. 
Whether, therefore, we refer to early usage or to 
strict philological import, ruling elders are as truly 
entitled to the name of clergy, in the only legitimate 
sense of that term — that is, they are as truly eccle- 
siastical officers as those who " labour in the word 
and doctrine." 

The scope of the foregoing remarks will not, it is 
hoped, be mistaken. The author of this Essay has no 
zeal either for retaining or using the terms clergy and 
laity. So far as the former term has been heretofore 
used, or may now be intended to convey the idea of a 
" privileged order" in the church — a dignified body 
lifted up in rank and claim above the mass of the 
church members — in a word, as desginating a set of 


men claiming to be vicars of Christ, keepers of the 
human conscience, and the only channels of grace — he 
disclaims and abhors it. He is a believer in no such 
meaning or men. But so far as it is intended to desig- 
nate those who are clothed with ecclesiastical office 
under the authority of Christ, and authorized to dis- 
charge some important spiritual functions which the 
body of the church members are not authorized to 
perform, and to mark the distinction between these 
two classes, the writer is of the opinion that the 
language may be defended, and that either that, or 
some other of equivalent import, ought to be used, nay, 
must be used, if we would be faithful to the New 
Testament view of ecclesiastical office as an ordinance 
of Jesus Christ. And if the term clergy, in this 
humble. Christian, and only becomingsense, be applied 
to those who preside in the dispensation of public ordi- 
nances, it may with equal propriety be applied to those 
who preside with pastors in the inspection and rule of 
the church. 

If any should be disposed to remark, on this subject, 
that the use of the term clergy is so appropriated, by 
long established public habit, to a particular class of 
ecclesiastical officers; that there can be no hope that the 
mass of the community will be I'econciled to an 
extension of the title to ruling elders ; the answer is, 
be it so. The writer of this volume is neither vain 
enough to expect, nor ambitious enough to attempt, a 
change in the popular language to the amount here 
supposed. But he protests against the continued use 
of the term lay elder, as really adapted to make an 
erroneous impression. Let the class of officers in ques- 
tion be called ruling elders. Let all necessary dis- 
tinction be made by saying : — " Ministers, or pastors, 
ruling elders, deacons, and the laity or body of the 
people." This will be in conformity with ancient usage. 
This will be maintaining every important principle. 
This can offend none, and nothing more will be 
desired by any. 


Were the foregoing views of the natm-e and duties 
of the elder's office generally adopted, duly appreciated, 
and faithfully carried out into practice, what a mighty 
change would be effected in our Zion ! With what a 
different estimate of the obligation and responsibilities 
which rest upon them would the candidates for this 
office enter on their sacred work ! And with what 
different feelings would the mass of the people, and 
especially all who love the cause of Christ, regard these 
spiritual counsellors and guides in their daily walks, 
and particularly in their friendly and official visits! 
This is a change most devoutly to be desired. The 
interests of the church are more involved in the pre- 
valence of just opinions and practice, in reference to 
this office, than almost any other that can be named. 
Were every congregation, besides a wise, pious, and 
faithful pastor, furnished with eight or ten elders, to co- 
operate with him in all his parochial labours, on the 
plan which has been sketched, men of wisdom, faith, 
prayer, and Christian activity — men willing to deny 
and exert themselves for the welfare of Zion — men alive 
to the importance of every thing that relates to the 
orthodoxy, purity, order, and spirituality of the church, 
and ever on the watch for opportunities of doing good — 
men, in a word, willing to " take the oversight" of the 
flock in the Lord, and to labour, without ceasing, for 
the promotion of its best interests — were every 
church furnished with a body of such elders, can any 
one doubt that knowledge, order, piety, and growth in 
grace, as well as in numbers, would be as common in 
our churches as the reverse is now the prevailing state 
of things, in consequence of the want of fidelity on the 
part of those who are nominally the overseers and 
guides of the flock ? 

While discussing the nature of this office, and the 
duties which pertain to it, it seems to be natural to 
offer a few remarks on the manner in which those who 
bear it ought to be treated by the members of the 


church ; in other words, on the duties which the 
church owes to her ruling elders. 

And here the discerning and pious mind will be at 
no loss to perceive that these duties are co-relative to 
those which the rulers owe to the church. That is, 
if they are the spiritual rulers of the church, and 
bound to perform daily, and with fidelity and zeal, the 
duties which belong to this station, it is evident that 
the members of the church are bound to recognize 
them in the same character, and to honour and treat 
them as their spiritual guides. Were it, then, in the 
power of the writer of this volume to address the 
members of every Presbyterian church in the United 
States, he would speak to them in some language as 
the following : — 

Christian Brethren, — Every consideration which 
has been urged to show the importance and duties 
belonging to the office of ruling elders, ought to remind 
you of the important duties which you owe to them. 
Remember, at all times, that they are your ecclesiastical 
rulers, rulers of your own choice, yet by no means 
coming to you in virtue of mere human authority, but 
in the name and by the appointment of the great 
Head of the Church, and, of course, the " ministers of 
God to you for good." 

In all your views and treatment of them, then, 
recognize this character. Obey them " in the Lord," 
that is, for his sake, and as far as they bear rule agree- 
ably to his word. " Esteem them very highly in love 
for their work's sake," and follow them daily with 
your prayers, that God would bless them and make 
them a blessing — reverence them as your leaders — 
bear in mind the importance of their office, the arduous- 
ness of their duties, and the difficulties with which they 
have to contend — countenance and sustain them in 
every act of fidelity, make allowance for their infir- 
mities, and be not unreasonable in your expectations 
from them. 

Many are ready to criminate the elders of the church 


for not taking notice of particular offences as speedily, 
or in such manner, as they expect. And this disposition 
to find fault is sometimes indulged by persons who have 
never been so faithful themselves as to give that infor- 
mation which they possessed respecting the alleged 
offences ; or who, when called upon publicly to sub- 
stantiate that which they have privately disclosed, have 
drawn back, unwilling to encounter the odium or the 
pain of appearing as accusers, or even as witnesses. 
Such persons ought to be the last to criminate church 
officers for supposed negligence of discipline. Can your 
rulers take notice of that which never comes to their 
knowledge ? Or can you expect them, as prudent men, 
rashly to set on foot a judicial and public investigation 
of things, concerning which many are ready to whis- 
per in private, but none willing to speak with frankness 
before a court of Christ ? Besides, let it be recollect- 
ed that the session of almost every church is some- 
times actually engaged in investigating charges, in 
removing offences, and in composing differences which 
many suppose they are utterly neglecting, merely 
because they do not judge it to be for edification in all 
cases to proclaim what they have done, or are doing, 
to the congregation at large. 

Your elders will sometimes be called — God grant 
that it may seldom occur ! — but they will sometimes 
be called to the painful exercise of discipline. Be not 
offended with them for the performance of this duty. 
Rather make the language of the Psalmist your own : 
" Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness ; 
and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent 
oil, which shall not break my head." Add not to the 
bitterness of their official task by discovering a resent- 
ful temper, or by indulging in reproachful language, 
in return for their fidelity. Surely the nature of the 
duty is sufficiently self-denying and distressing with- 
out rendering it more so by unfriendly treatment. 
Receive their private warnings and admonitions with 
candour and affectionate submission. Treat their 


public acts, however contrary to your wishes, with 
respect and reverence. If they be honest and pious 
men, can they do less than exercise the discipline of 
Christ's house against such of you as walk disorderly ? 
Nay, if you be honest and pious yourselves, can you 
do less than approve of their faithfulness in exercising 
that discipline ? If you were aware of all the difficul- 
ties which attend this part of the duty of your elder- 
ship, you would feel for them more tenderly, and 
judge concerning them more candidly and indulgently 
than you are often disposed to do. Here you have it 
in your power, in a very important degree, to lessen 
their burdens and to strengthen their hands. 

When your elders visit your families for the purpose 
of becoming acquainted with them, and of aiding the 
pastor in ascertaining the spiritual state of the flock, 
remember that it is not officious intrusion. It is 
nothing more than their duty. Receive them not as if 
you suspected them of having come as spies or busy 
intruders, but with respect and cordiality. Convince 
them, by your treatment, that youare glad to see them; 
that you wish to encourage them in promoting the 
best interests of the church, and that you honour 
them for their fidelity. Give them an opportunity of 
seeing your children, and of ascertaining whether your 
households are making progress in the Christian life. 
Nay, encourage your children to put themselves in the 
way of the elders, that they may be personally known 
to them, and may become the objects of their affec- 
tionate notice, their occasional exhortation, and their 
pious prayers. Converse with the elders freely, as 
with fathers who " have no greater joy than to see 
you walking in the truth." And ever give them cause 
to retire under the pleasing persuasion, that their 
office is honoured, that their benevolent designs are duly 
appreciated, and that their labours " are not in vain 
in the Lord." In short, as every good citizen will 
make conscience of vindicating the fidelity, and 
holding up the hand of the faithful magistrate who 


firmly and impartially executes the law of the land, 
so every good Christian ought to feel himself bound 
in conscience and honour, as well as in duty to his 
Lord, to strengthen the hands and encourage the 
heart of the spiritual ruler, who evidently seeks, in the 
fear of God, to promote the purity and edification of 
the church. 

The nature of the office before us also leads to 
another remark with which the present chapter will 
be closed. It is, that there seems to be a peculiar 
propriety in the ruling elders (and the same principle 
will apply to the deacons, if there be any of this class 
of officers in a congregation, ) having a seat assigned 
them, for sitting together in a conspicuous part of the 
church, near the pulpit, during the public service, 
where they can overlook the whole worshipping 
assembly, and be seen by all. The considerations 
which recommend this are numerous. It was in- 
variably so in the Jewish synagogue. The same 
practice, as we have seen in the former chapter, was 
adopted in the early church, as soon as Christians 
began to erect houses for public worship. This official 
and conspicuous accommodation for the elders is con- 
stantly provided in the Dutch Reformed Church in 
this country, and it is believed by most of the Re- 
formed Churches on the Continent of Europe. It is 
adapted to keep the congregation habitually reminded 
who their elders are, and of their official authority, 
and also to remind the elders themselves of their 
functions and duties. And it furnishes a convenient 
opportunity for the pastor to consult them on any 
question which may occur, either before he ascends the 
pulpit or at the close of the service. 



These offices have been so often confounded, and 
opinions attempted to be maintained which tend to 
merge the former in the latter, that it is judged pro- 
per to make the difference between them the subject 
of distinct consideration. 

The only account that we have in scripture of the 
origin of the deacon's office is found in the following 
passage in the Acts of the Apostles vi. 1—6. " And 
in those days, when the number of the disciples was 
multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians 
against the Hebrews, because their widows were 
neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve 
called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and 
said. It is not reason that we should leave the word 
of God and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look 
ye out among ye seven men, of honest report, full of 
the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint 
over this business. But we will give ourselves con- 
tinually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 
And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and 
they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the 


Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, 
and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a Proselyte 
of Antioch, whom they had set before the apostles; 
and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on 

On this plain passage various opinions have been 
entertained. It will be to our purpose to notice a few 
of them. 

I. Some have doubted whether these were the first 
deacons chosen by the direction of the inspired apostles. 
The learned Dr. Mosheim supposes that the Church 
of Jerusalem, from its first organization, had its in- 
ferior ministers, in other words, its deacons, and that 
there is a reference to these in the fifth chapter of the 
Acts of the Apostles, under the title of young men, 
(^Dsars^oi, and vsoi!/:(rxoi,) who assisted in the interment 
of Annanias and Sapphira. He is confident that the 
seven deacons spoken of in the passage just cited, were 
added to the original number; and that they were 
intentionally selected from the foreign Jews, in order 
to silence the complaints on the part of the Grecians 
of partiality in the distribution of the offerings made 
for the relief of the poor. To this opinion there 
seems to be no good reason for acceding. The objec- 
tions to it are the following : — 

1. It is by no means probable that a class of officers, 
of great importance to the comfort and prosperity of the 
church, should have been instituted by divine authority, 
and yet that the original institution should have been 
passed over by all the inspired writers in entire silence. 

2. In this narrative of the election and ordination 
of the seven deacons there is not the most distant 
allusion to any pre-existing officers of the same charac- 
ter or functions. The murmuring spoken of seems 
to have proceeded from the body of the Grecian, or 
foreign Christians, and to have been directed against 
the body of the native, or Hebrew Christians. 

3. It is evident from the spirit of the narrative that 
the appointment of these deacons was expressly 


designed to relieve the apostles themselves of a labori- 
ous service, with which they had been before encum- 
bered, but which interfered with their discharge of 
higher and more important duties. Surely the address 
of the apostles would have been strange, if not un- 
meaning, had there been already a body of officers who 
were intrusted with the whole of this business, and 
they had only been solicited to appoint an additional 
number, or to put a more impartial set in the place of 
the old incumbents. 

4. It is plain that these officers were not chosen 
from among the young men of the church, as Dr. 
Moshiem seems to imagine, nor was the office itself 
one of small trust or dignity. The multitude were 
directed to " look out for seven men of honest report," 
or established reputation, " full of the Holy Ghost and 
of wisdom :" and when the Aposde Paul afterwards 
writes to Timothy, and points out the character of 
those who ought to be selected for this office, he speaks 
of them as married men, fathers of families, distin- 
guished for their gravity, men who had been " first 
proved" and found "blameless," as orthodox, just, 
temperate, holy men, regulating their own households 
with firmness and prudence. 

5. Dr. Moshiem is not borne out by the best 
authorities in his interpretation of the words viar^^oi, 
and viocDiaKot. The most skilful lexicographers assign 
to them no such official meaning. Besides, the nature 
and responsibility of the office, and the high qualifi- 
cations for it pointed out by the apostles at the time 
of this first choice, and required by the Apostle 
Paul afterwards, when writing to Timothy respect- 
ing proper persons to be chosen and set apart as 
deacons, by no means answer to the view which Dr. 
Moshiem takes of the inferiority of the office, or the 
propriety of bestowing it on young men, as the church's 

6. Finally, it may be doubted whether there had 
been any real need of the deacon's office until the time 


arrived and the events occurred which are recorded m 
the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. But a 
short time had elapsed since the church had been 
organized on the New Testament plan. At its first 
organization the number of the poor connected with 
it was probably small. But very shortly after the day of 
Pentecost the number of foreigners who had come up 
to the feast, and had there been converted to the Chris- 
tian faith, was so great, and the number of these who, at 
a distance from all their wonted pecuniary resources 
and their friends, stood in need of pecuniary aid, had 
also become so considerable, that the task of " impart- 
ing to those who had need," became suddenly a most 
arduous employment. This had been accomplished, 
however, for a short time under the direction of the 
apostles, and without appointing a particular class of 
officers for the purpose. But when the foreign Jews 
came forward and made complaint of partiality in this 
business, the apostles, under the direction of heavenly 
wisdom, called upon the " multitude " to make choice 
of competent persons whom they might appoint over 
this branch of Christian ministration. This appears 
to be a plain history of the case ; and to resort to Dr. 
Moshiem's supposition is to throw a strange and per- 
plexed aspect over the whole narrative. 

II. There are others who have doubted whether the 
" seven" whose election and ordination are recorded 
in the 6th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles were 
deacons at all. They allege that the office to which 
they were chosen and set apart was a mere temporary 
function, not designed to be a permanent one in the 
Christian Church, and which, probably, did not last 
much if any longer than what is commonly called 
" the community of goods," which existed sometime 
after the day of Pentecost. 

Against this supposition the following reasons are, 
in my view, conclusive. 

1. If this supposition were admitted, then it would 
follow that there is no account whatever in the scrip- 


tures of the origin or nature of the deacon's office. 
The office is mentioned again and again in the New 
Testament ; but if the narrative in the beginning of 
the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles be not a 
statement of its origin, nature, and duties, we have no 
account of them any where. Can this be considered 
as probable ? 

2. Is it likely, judging on the principles and from 
the analogy of scripture, that a short occasional trust, 
a mere temporary trusteeship, if I may so speak, would 
be appointed with so much formality and solemnity — 
marked not only by a formal election of the people, 
but also by the prayers and " the laying on of the 
hands" of the apostles? What greater solemnities 
attended an investiture with the highest and most 
permanent offices in the Christian Church? 

3. It is a well known fact, that in the Jewish syna- 
gogue, which was assumed as the model of the primi- 
tive church, there was a class of officers to whom the 
collection and distribution of alms for the poor were 
regularly committed. We may venture to presume, 
then, that the appointment of similar officers in the 
church would be altogether likely. 

4. When it is considered what an important and 
arduous part of the church's duty it was in the apos- 
tolic age, and for some time afterwards, to provide for 
the very numerous poor who looked to her for aid, it 
is incredible that there should be no class of officers 
specifically set apart for this purpose. Yet if the 
" seven " are not of this class, there is no account of 
any such appointment in the New Testament. 

5. The language of some of the earlier, as well as 
the later Christian Others on this subject, clearly 
evinces that they considered the appointment recorded 
in the chapter of the Acts of the Apostles now under 
consideration, as the appointment of Christian deacons, 
and as exhibiting the nature of that office, and the 
great purpose for which it was instituted. A small 
specimen of the manner in which they speak on the 



subject will be snfficient to establish this position. 
Hermas, one of the apostolical fathers, in his Simili- 
tude, ix. 27, expresses himself thus: — " For what 
concerns the tenth mountain, in which were the trees 
covering the cattle, they are such as have believed, 
and some of them have been bishops, that is, presi- 
dents of the churches ; then such as have been set 
over inferior ministries, and have protected the poor 
and the widows." Origen {Tract. 16, in Matt.) evi- 
dently considered the deacons as charged with the 
pecuniary concerns of the church. " The deacons," 
says he, "preside over the money-tables of the church." 
And again, " those deacons who do not manage well 
the money of the churches committed to their care, 
but act a fradulent part, and dispense it not according 
to justice, but for the purpose of enriching themselves, 
these act the part of money-changers, and keepers of 
those tables which our Lord overturned. For the 
deacons were appointed to preside over the tables of 
the church, as we are taught in the Acts of the 
Apostles." Cyprian speaks (Epist. 25) of a certain 
deacon who had been deposed from his " sacred 
diaconate on account of his fraudulent and sacrilegious 
misapplication of the church's money to his own 
private use, and for his denial of the widows' and 
orphans' pledges deposited with him." And in another 
place (Epist. 3, ad rogatianum) he refers the appoint- 
ment of the first deacons to this choice and ordination 
at Jerusalem. It seems, then, that the deacons, in the 
days of Cyprian, were intrusted with the care of 
widows and orphans, and the funds of the church 
destined for their relief. It is incidentally stated in 
the account of the persecution under the Emperor 
Decius, in the third century, that byorder of the Em- 
peror, Laurentius, one of the deacons of Rome, was 
seized, under the expectation of finding the money 
of the church, collected for the use of the poor, in his 
possession. It is further stated that this money had 
really been in his possession, but that, expecting the 


storm of persecution, he had distributed it before his 

Eusebius (lib. ii. cap. 1) says, — " There were also 
seven approved men ordained deacons, through prayer 
and the imposition of the apostles' hands;" and he 
immediately afterwards speaks of Stephen as one of 
the number. Dorothseus, bishop of Tyre, contem- 
porary with Eusebius, also says, (Lives of the Pro- 
phets, &c.) " Stephen, the first martyr, and one of the 
seven deacons, was stoned by the Jews at Jerusalem, 
as Luke testifieth in the Acts of the Apostles." 

Ambrose, in speaking of the fourth century, the 
time in which he lived, says, (Comment, in Ephes. iv.) 
" The deacons do not publicly preach." Chrysostom, 
who lived in the same century, in his commentary on 
this very passage in Acts vi. observes, that " the 
deacons had need of great wisdom, although the 
preaching of the word was not committed to them ;" 
and remarks further, that " it is absurd to suppose 
that they should have both the offices of preaching 
and taking care of the poor committed to them, seeing 
it is impossible for them to discharge both functions 
adequately." Sozomen the ecclesiastical historian, who 
lived in the fifth century, says (lib. v. cap. 8) that 
" the deacon's office was to keep the church's goods." 
In the apostolical constitutions, which, though un- 
doubtedly spurious as an apostolical work, may pro- 
bably be referred to the fourth or fifth centuries, it is 
recorded, (lib. viii. cap. 28,) " It is not lawful for the 
deacons to baptize or to administer the Eucharist, or 
to pronounce the greater or smaller benediction." 
Jerome, in his letter to Evagrius, calls deacons " mini- 
sters of tables and widows." Oecumenius, a learned 
commentator who lived several centuries after Jerome, 
in his commentary on Acts vi., expresses himself thus: 
" The apostles laid their hands on those who were 
chosen deacons, not to confer on them that rank which 
they now hold in the church, but that they might, 
with all diligence and attention, distribute the neces- 


saries of life to widows and orphans." And the 
council of Trullo, in the sixth century, expressly 
asserts, (can. 16,) that the seven deacons spoken of 
in the Acts of the Apostles, are not to be understood 
of such as ministered in divine service or in sacred 
mysteries, but only of such as served tables and 
attended the poor. 

Another consideration, which shows beyond contro- 
versy that the early Christians universally considered 
the " seven " spoken of in the sixth chapter of the 
Acts of the Apostles as the proper New Testament 
deacons, is, that for several centuries many of the 
largest and most respectable churches in the world 
considered themselves as bound, in selecting their 
deacons, to confine themselves to the exact number 
seven, whatever might be their extent and their exi- 
gencies, on the avowed principle of conformity to the 
number of this class of officers first appointed in the 
mother church at Jerusalem. The council of Neocae- 
sarea enacted it into a canon that there should be but 
seven deacons in any city, however great, because this 
was according to the rule laid down in the Acts of 
the Apostles. And the church of Rome, both before 
and after this council, seems also to have looked upon 
that example as binding; for it is evident from the 
epistles of Cornelius, written in the middle of the 
third century, that there were but seven deacons in 
the church of Rome at that time, though there were 
forty-six presbyters. Prudentius intimates that it was 
so in the time of Sixtus, also in the year 261; for, 
speaking of Laurentius the deacon, he terms him the 
chief of those " seven men " who had their station 
near the altar, meaning the deacons of the church. 
Nay, in the fourth and fifth centuries, the custom in 
that city continued the same, as we learn both from 
Sozomen and Hilary, the Roman deacon, who wrote 
under the name of Ambrose.* 

* Bingham's Origines Ecclesiasticae, b. ii. ch. 20, sect. 19. 


6. The current opinion of all the most learned and 
judicious Christian divines of all denominations, for 
several centuries past, is decisively in favour of con- 
sidering the passage in Acts vi. as recording the first 
appointment of the New Testament deacons. Among 
all classes of theologians. Catholic and Protestant, 
Lutheran and Calvinistic, Presbyterian and Episcopal, 
this concurrence of opinion approaches so near to 
unanimity, that we may, without injustice to any other 
opinion, consider it as the deliberate and harmonious 
judgment of the Christian church. 

The very learned Suicer, a German Professor of the 
seventeenth century, in his Thesaurus Ecclesiasticus, 
(Art. ^iccKQvog,) makes the following statement on this 
subject : — " In the apostolic church, deacons were 
those who distributed alms to the poor, and took care of 
them : in other words, they were the treasurers of the 
church's charity. The original institution of this class 
of officers, is set forth in the sixth chapter of the Acts 
of the Apostles. With respect to them, the 16th canon 
of the council of Constantine (in Trullo) says : — 
" They are those to whom the common administering 
to poverty is committed, not those who administer 
the sacraments." And Aristinus in his Synopsis of the 
canons of the same council, canon 18th says: — "Let 
him who alleges that the seven of whom mention is 
made in the Acts of the Apostles were deacons know 
that the account there given is not of those who ad- 
minister the sacraments, but of such as 'served tables.' " 
Zonaras, ad Canon 16, Trullanum, p. 145, says, those 
who by the apostles were appointed to the diaconate, 
were not ministers of spiritual things, but ministers and 
dispensers of meats. Oecumenius also, on the 6th 
chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, says : — "They laid 
their hands on the deacons who had been elected, 
which office was by no means the same with that 
which obtains at the present day in the church, {i. e. 
under the same name;) but that with the utmost care 


and diligence they might distribute what was necessary 
to the sustenance of orphans and widows." 

From these considerations, I feel myself warranted 
in concluding with confidence, that the "seven" chosen 
at Jerusalem to " serve tables," were scriptural deacons, 
and the first deacons; and that, of course, every 
attempt to evade the necessary consequence of admit- 
ting this fact is wholly destitute of support. 

III. A third opinion held by some on this subject is, 
that although the passage recorded in the beginning 
of the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, is an 
account of the first appointment of New Testament 
deacons, and though their primary function was to 
take care of the poor, and " serve tables;" yet that the 
appropriate duties of their office were afterwards en- 
larged. Thus the Prelatists say, that Philip one of 
" the seven," is found soon after his appointment as 
deacon, preaching and baptizing. Hence they infer 
that these functions of right pertain to the deacon's 
office, and have belonged to it from the beginning. 
On the other hand, some Independents say, that the 
word deacon, according to its Greek etymology, means 
minister or servant ; that this general term may cover 
a large field of ecclesiastical service, and that New 
Testament deacons were probably at first intended, 
and now ought to be employed, to assist the pastor in 
counsel and government, as well as in serving the 
Lord's table, and attending to the relief of the poor. 
And even some Presbyterians have expressed the 
opinion that our ruling elders were a kind of deacons 
in disguise, and ought so to be considered and called; 
and that there ought not to be, and cannot be consis- 
tently with Scripture, any office-bearer charged with 
the duty of assisting the pastor in counsel and rule, other 
than the deacon. 

I am fully persuaded that this is an erroneous 
opinion. It appears to me manifest, not only that it is 
inconsistent with the form of government of the Pres- 
byterian church, but Tvhat is a much more serious 


difficulty, that it is altogether irreconcileable with the 
New Testament. For, 

1. An attentive and impartial perusal of the record of 
this first institution of deacons, must convince any one 
that preaching, baptizing, or partaking in the spiritual 
rule and government of the church, were so far from 
being embraced in the original destination of the New 
Testament deacon, that they were all absolutely pre- 
cluded by the very terms, and the whole spirit of the 
representation given by the inspired historian. The 
things complained of by the Grecian believers are, not 
that the preaching was defective, or that the govern- 
ment and discipline of the church were badly man- 
aged. Not a hint of this kind is given. The only 
complaint was, that the poor " widows had been 
neglected ;" in other words, had not had the due share 
of attention to their wants, and of relief from the 
church's bounty. To remove all cause of complaint on 
this score, the " seven" were chosen and set apart. 
The sphere of duty to which they were appointed was 
one which the apostles declared they could not fulfil 
without leaving the word of God to serve tables."* 
They say, therefore, to the members of the church, 
" look ye out seven men of honest report, full of the 
Holy Ghost and of wisdom, whom we may appoint 
over this business," i. e. over the "serving of tables:" 
" And we will give ourselves to prayer and the 
ministry of the word." Now, to suppose that these 

* It has been supposed by many that the phrase, " serving" 
tables," in the history of the institution of the deacon's office, 
had a reference either to the Lord's table, or to overseeing- and 
supplying the tables of the poor, or perhaps both. But I am 
inclined to believe that this is an entire mistake. The word 
T^uTre^oe., signifies indeed a table; but, in this connection, it 
seems obviously to mean a money-table, or a counter on which 
money was laid. Hence r^ocTrs^eryig a money-changer, or money- 
merchant. See Matt. xxi. 1^, xxv. 27; Mark xi. 15; Luke xix. 
2'S. The plain meaning, then, of Acts vi. seems to be this; — 
" It is not suitable that we should leave the word of God and 
devote ourselves to pecuniary aflfairs." 


very deacons were appointed to officiate in "the ministry 
of the word and prayer," is an inconsistency, nay an 
absurdity, so glaring that the only wonder is how any 
one can possibly adopt it after reading the passage in 
question. If the object had been, to adopt a supposi- 
tion, fitted to exhibit the apostles, and the " multitude" 
too, as acting like insane men or children, one more 
directly adapted to answer the end could not have 
been thought of. 

2. The circumstance of Philip, sometime after his 
appointment as deacon, being found preaching and 
baptizing in Samaria, and other places, does not 
afford the smallest presumptive evidence against this 
conclusion. Soon after his appointment to the diaconate 
in Jerusalem, the members of the church in that city 
were chiefly " scattered abroad by persecution." Philip 
was of course driven from his residence. Now, the 
probability is that about this time, seeing he was a 
man " full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom," and 
therefore eminently qualified to be useful in preaching 
the gospel, he received a new ordination as an Evan- 
gelist, and in this character went forth to preach and 
baptize. He is expressly called an " Evangelist," by 
the same inspired writer who gives us an account of his 
appointment as a deacon ; ( Acts xxi. 8. ) Until it can be 
proved, then, that he preached and baptized as a dea- 
con and not as an Evangelist, the supposition is 
utterly improbable and altogether worthless. It is really 
an imposition on credulity to urge it. And that cer- 
tainly never can be proved as long as the sixth chapter 
of the Acts of the Apostles remains a part of the inspired 
volume. As to Stephen, another of the " seven," dis- 
puting with gainsayers in private, and defending him- 
self before the council, it was not official preaching 
at all. It was nothing more than every professing 
Christian is at all times not only at liberty but under 
obligation to do, when assailed by unbelievers, or when 
brought before an unjust tribunal. 

The truth is, the practice of connecting the functions 


of preaching and baptizing with the deacon's office, 
is one of the various human inventions which early 
began to spring up in the church, and which turned 
almost every ecclesiastical office which had been 
divinely instituted more or less from its primitive char- 
acter. " But from the beginning it was not so." It 
is a departure from the apostolical model. We find, 
indeed, in several of the writers of the first three or 
four centuries, frequent intimations of deacons being 
permitted to preach and administer the ordinance of 
baptism. But in almost every instance, it is repre- 
sented as done in virtue of a specific permission from 
the pastor or bishop in each case, and as entirely un- 
lawful without such permission, — a very different thing 
from a function inherent in an office, and always law- 
ful when a proper occasion for its exercise occurred ! 
In fact, ecclesiastical history, I believe, will bear me 
out in saying, that within the first three centuries it 
would be just as correct to assert that private Chris- 
tians in general had a right to preach and baptize, as 
to maintain that deacons, in virtue of their office as 
such, had this right, because we meet with some in- 
stances of their being both called upon to do so in 
cases of supposed necessity, or when specially permit- 
ted by superior ecclesiastics. Mr. Bingham, the 
learned episcopal antiquary, explicitly tells us, on the 
authority of several early writers, that private Chris- 
tians, who sustained no office whatever in the church, 
were sometimes called upon to address the people in 
the absence, or at the special request, of him whose 
official duty it was to preach. The same learned 
author goes on to state, that in the apostolic age, or 
as long as the special gifts of the Holy Spirit, enabling 
men to prophecy, continued, all who possessed such 
special gifts, whether in office or not, might use " the 
word of exhortation " in the church. " But then," 
he adds, " as such extraordinary gifts of the spirit of 
prophecy, were in a manner peculiar to the apostoli- 
cal age, this could not be a rule to the following ages 


of the church. And, therefore, when once these gifts 
were ceased, the church went prudently by another 
rule, to allow none but such as were called by an ordi- 
nary commission to perform this office, except where 
some extraordinary natural endowments (such as were 
in Origen before his ordination) answering in some 
measure to those special gifts, made it proper to grant 
a license to laymen to exercise their talents for the 
benefit of the church. Or else, when necessity im- 
posed the duty on deacons to perform the office of 
preaching, when the bishop and presbyters were by 
sickness or other means debarred from it. For the 
aforesaid author (Ambrose) plainly says, that deacons 
in his time were not ordinarily allowed pra^dicare in 
popiilo, i. e. preach to the people, as being an office to 
which they had no ordinary commission. And the 
same is said by the author of the Apostolical Constitu- 
tions, and many others. Therefore, since deacons 
were not allowed this power, but only in some special 
cases, it is the less to be wondered at, after the ceas- 
ing of spiritual gifts, it should generally be denied to 

A mistake on this point, in reference to the deacon's 
office, has arisen from misinterpreting certain terms 
which are used by some of the early writers to express 
their public service. The words ^yi^vy^x, kyi^v^, nn^vaauy 
&c., are frequently used in the New Testament to ex- 
press the public preacher, and preaching of the gospel. 
Now, when the same words are applied by some of 
the earlier Greek Fathers, and the corresponding 
words,, prcedlcatiO) and prcedicare. hy the Latins 
to the deacon's office, it has been hastily concluded 
that they were habitually preachers, in the New Testa- 
ment sense of the term. But the truth is, as every one 
in the least degree acquainted with those writers knows, 
these terms when used by the Fathers signify an en- 
tirely different thing. The deacons, in the third, 

* Binghfim's Origines Ecclesiasticse, b. 14-. ch. 4. sect 4. 


fourth, and fifth centuries, are every where represen- 
ted as the common heralds, or criers of the church. 
That is, when any pubHc notice was to be given ; 
when the catechumens or the penitents were to be 
called upon aloud to come forward, or to withdraw; 
or when any public proclamation was to be made, in 
the course of the service in the church ; it belonged 
to the deacon's office to perform this duty. Hence he 
was called the ^>5eyi, or crier, and was said >cyipvaau'j, to 
cry aloud, or make proclamation. It belonged to the 
deacons also, to keep order at the doors, when the 
service was beginning; to see that the worshippers 
were seated in a quiet and orderly manner ; to stand 
around the communion table when it was spread, and 
with fans, made either of dried skins or peacock's 
feathers, to keep off the flies from the consecrated 
elements ; and, after the consecration of the sacramen- 
tal elements, to bear them to the communicants. 
These and a variety of subordinate duties were con- 
sidered as pertaining to their office, and hence they 
were regarded not as having any part of the priest- 
hood, according to the language of that day ; but as 
being the " church's servants." All this is so explicitly 
acknowledged, and so abundantly proved by the 
learned Bingham, (Origines Ecclesiasticae, book ii. 
chap. 20; and book xiv. chap. 4,) that any further 
enlargement on the subject is altogether unnecessary. 
The original office of the deacon was one of high 
trust and dignity ; requiring much piety, wisdom, pru- 
dence, and diligence. But when the purity of the 
church, both in doctrine and practice declined, and 
especially, when the ardour of her charity to the poor 
had greatly slackened, that officer having little to do 
in his appropriate department, sunk, for a time, into 
a kind of ecclesiastical menial. 

3. The directions afterwards given by Paul to 
Timoth)^, (1 Tim. iii.) respecting the proper qualifica- 
tions of candidates for the deacon's office, are decis- 
ively opposed to the view of the subject which I am 


now examining. When the apostle speaks of the 
qualifications indispensable in a teaching elder or 
bishop, he says he must not only be grave, pious, and 
of good report, but also " apt to teach," &c. But he 
prescribes no such condition in the choice of deacons. 
He gives no intimation that teaching made any part 
of their official work. It is said, indeed, that they 
ought to be men " holding the mystery of faith in a 
pure conscience ;" by which I understand to be meant, 
that they must be men holding the true faith in 
sincerity ; in other words, that they must be orthodox 
and pious ; qualifications which ought to be found in 
all who bear office in the Church of God. 

4. We have not the least evidence from any source, 
that the function of government was ever connected 
with the deacon's office. We read of ruling elders, 
but never of ruling deacons. Among all the multi- 
plied witnesses drawn from the synagogue and the 
church, and from almost all denominations of Chris- 
tians, ancient and modern, in favour of a bench of 
elders in each congregation for conducting its govern- 
ment and discipline, I recollect no example of the 
members of that bench being called deacons, or of 
deacons having any place among them. Nay, it is 
perfectly manifest, that if, according to the scriptural 
model, there ought to be bench or college, made up 
of a plurality of elders in each church, to be intrusted 
with the inspection and rule of the whole body, then 
there is not a shadow of evidence to support the claim 
of the deacons to a seat in that body. But if such a 
bench of rulers, under the name of elders or presby- 
ters be given up, then I will venture to assert, there 
is not a shred of evidence, either in or out of the 
Bible, that similar powers were ever assigned to 
deacons as such. We may, indeed, call our ruling 
elders by the name of deacons if we please. And so 
we may call them dervises or imans with the Turks, 
and say that we mean by these titles to designate the 
members of the parochial presbytery or consistory in 


each church. But the real questions which present 
themselves for solution are such as these, — Is it agree- 
able to the New Testament model, that there be in 
every Christian congregation a plurality of pious and 
prudent men, invested with the office of inspection 
and government in the church ? Or ought all eccle- 
siastical authority and discipline to be exercised by 
the pastor alone? If the former be admitted, then 
ought the body of spiritual rulers to be styled elders 
or deacons ? If the latter name be contended for, as 
the more scriptural, then what passage of Scripture, 
or of early uninspired history, can be mentioned 
which countenances the application of this title to 
ecclesiastical rulers as such ? The truth is, it is not 
perceived how any can consistently maintain, that the 
officers whom Presbyterians are wont to call ruling 
elders, are really deacons, and ought to be so desig- 
nated, without abandoning the church session, as 
destitute of all scriptural warrant. He who does this, 
however, must hold, either that the pastor of each 
church has the whole government and discipline in 
his own hands, and that the persons called elders or 
deacons, are only a set of convenient advisers, without 
any rightful judicial authority, or that all authority 
ought to be exercised by the body of the communi- 
cants, and every question of admission or discipline 
submitted to their vote. In the latter case, he may 
be a very pious and excellent Independent, but he 
has no claim to the character of a Presbyterian. 

It is deeply to be regretted, that the office of deacon 
in its true nature, and its highly important and scrip- 
tural character, is not to be found in many Presby- 
terian churches. In some, this office is wholly dropped. 
Neither the name nor the thing is to be found in 
them. In others, the ruling elders, or the members 
of the church session, are constantly styled deacons, 
and scarcely ever designated by any other title, while 
the office really indicated in Scripture by that title is 
not retained. And in a third class of our churches, 


those who are meant for real deacons, that is, who are 
chosen and set apart as such, as well as called by that 
name, are employed in functions for which the office 
of deacon was never instituted. The cases, it is 
feared, are few, in which the offices of elder and 
deacon are both retained, and the appropriate functions 
of each distinctly maintained. 

Perhaps in a majority of our churches, the office of 
deacon, strictly so called, is entirely dropped. This, 
it is believed, is also virtually the case to a consider- 
able extent in the Church of Scotland, and among 
the large and respectable body of Presbyterians in 
the north of Ireland. The origin of this extensive 
disuse of an unquestionable scriptural office, is pro- 
bably to be traced to the peculiar form of the provision 
made in some countries for the support of the poor, 
which was supposed to render the deaconship as a 
separate office, unnecessary. Deacons had a place in 
the original organization of the Protestant Church of 
Scotland, and for many 3^ears after the Reformation 
were universally retained and much employed in that 
church as a distinct class of officers. But in later 
times, the office has either been suffered to fall into 
disuetude altogether, or, as is more common, has been 
united with that of ruling elder, in the same indi- 
viduals. So that the ruling elders in the Church of 
Scotland are generally expected, and undertake to 
act as deacons also. The same arrangement, it is 
believed, is also generally adopted among the Presby- 
terians in Ireland. 

As to those churches in our own country in which 
the office of deacon has been suffered to fall into 
disuse altogether, this event is certainly, on a variety 
of accounts, to be regretted ; among others, for the 
following reasons. 

1. Every scriptural precedent is worthy of serious 
regard. The office of deacon was evidently brought 
into the church by inspired men. And although it 
is not contended that it is essential to an organized 


church to have officers of this class, inasmuch as the 
church undoubtedly did without them for a short 
time after its first organization, yet as the office is an 
institution of infinite wisdom, and necessary to a full 
array of all the officers which belong to the visible 
church, it seems expedient to retain it in all cases in 
which it is possible. 

2. We know that in every Jewish synagogue, before 
the coming of Christ, there was a class of officers 
whose peculiar duty it was to collect and dispense the 
monies contributed for the support of the poor. This 
seems to have been an invariable part of the syna- 
gogue system. And as that system was evidently the 
model on which the Christian church was formed, we 
may presume, that a feature of it so strongly recom- 
mended by age and experience, is worthy of adoption. 

3. Although some churches may plead in excuse 
for discontinuing the use of this office, that they have 
no church poor, and therefore no occasion for the 
appropriate services of deacons, yet the question is. 
Ought they to allow this to be the case ? What though 
the laws of the state make provision of a decent kind 
for all the poor ? Are there not commonly within 
the bounds, and even among the communicants of 
every church of any extent, and of the ordinary 
standing in point of age, generally found a greater 
or less number of persons who have seen more com- 
fortable days, but are now reduced; aged widows, 
persons of delicate retiring spirits, who are struggling 
with the most severe privations of poverty in secret, 
but cannot bring themselves to apply to the civil 
officer for aid as paupers; who, at the same time, 
would be made comparatively comfortable by a pit- 
tance now and then administered in the tender and 
aifectionate spirit of the gospel? Now, ought the 
church to take no measures for searching out such 
members who are not, and cannot be reached by the 
legal provision, and kindly ministering to their com- 
fort? But if there be no class of officers whose 


appropriate duty it is to make this whole concern an 
object of their attention, it will too often be neglected, 
and thus the interest of Christian charity seriously 
suffer. It is not a sufficient answer to this argument 
to say, as those who philosophize on the subject of 
pauperism say, and, to a certain extent, with great 
truth, that this very provision would probably invite 
application, and perhaps, in some instances, induce 
improper reliance upon it, to the neglect of economy 
and diligence. Supposing this, in some degree, to be 
the case, would it not be better to relieve some portion 
of the poverty brought on by improvidence, than to 
allow humble, tender piety to pine in secret, unpitied 
and unrelieved, under the pressure of that helpless 
penury, which was induced by the hand of a sovereign 
God ? Nay, is no pity, no active sympathy due from 
the church even to indigence notoriously induced by 
sin ? The considerations which have been suggested, 
furnish, indeed, a good argument for having deacons 
of suitable character; men of piety, wisdom, benevo- 
lence, practical acquaintance with the world and with 
human nature, who would be likely to perform their 
duty with discernment, prudence, and unfeigned 
Christian charity, cautiously guarding against the 
evils to which the relief they are commissioned to bear 
is exposed, but no argument at all against affording 
such relief when really needed. 

4. It is a great error to suppose that deacons can- 
not be appropriately and profitably employed in various 
other ways besides ministering to the poor of the 
church. They might, with a great propriety be made 
the managers of all the money tables, or fiscal concerns 
of each congregation ; and, for this purpose, might be 
incorporated, if it were thought necessary by law, 
that they might be enabled regularly to hold and em- 
ploy all the property, real and personal of the church. 
But, even if it were thought inexpedient that boards 
of deacons should be allowed thus to supersede the 
boards of " trustees," which are, at present, commonly 


employed to manage each ecclesiastical treasury ; still 
there are very important services in reference to 
pecuniary concerns, which they might manage, and 
which it is believed, would be greatly beneficial to the 
church if they were considered as at all times bound 
to manage, and should actually manage with wisdom, 
energy, and zeal. I refer to the church's contributions, 
to the various great objects of Christian enterprise 
which distinguish the present day. That these contri- 
butions to the cause of the Bible; of missions, foreign 
and domestic ; of Sabbath schools ; and of the various 
other Christian and benevolent undertakings for pro- 
moting knowledge, virtue, and happiness, temporal and 
eternal, among men, ought to be continued, and 
greatly increased, — no one who looks into the Bible, 
or who knows any thing of the Christian spirit, can 
for a moment doubt. It is quite evident, too, that 
these contributions ought to be perfectly volun- 
tary, and any attempt to render them otherwise, would 
be both unscriptural and mischievous. But would it 
not tend to render the whole business of liberality to the 
cause of Christ more regular, more easy, more abun- 
dant, and ultimately more productive, if it were placed 
under the enlightened advice, and wise management 
of six or eight deacons in each church ? Suppose the 
pastor and the elders of every congregation to be 
animated with a proper spirit on this subject, and 
to be habitually uttering and diffusing proper sen- 
timents ; and suppose the whole business of collecting 
the contributions, and paying them over to the respec- 
tive treasuries for which they were destined, were 
devolved on the deacons, as an executive board, who 
might call to their aid, and would really confer, as 
well as receive a benefit, by calling to their aid, in the 
details of collection, a number of active, pious sub- 
agents ? Can any one doubt that the contributions of 
the churches would be more systematic, more regular, 
more conveniently received, better proportioned, and 
a part, at least, and in some cases a large part, of the 


expenses paid to travelling agents, saved for the cause 
of Christ ? The truth is, an enlightened, active, pious 
board of deacons might place this whole subject on 
such a footing, and when they had gotten it fairly 
arranged, and under way, might manage it in such a 
manner, as without adding in the least degree to the 
burdens of the people, would render their contribu- 
tions more productive, as well as more easy and 
economical in every part of their management. 

With respect to the mode of disposing of the deacon's 
office adopted extensively in our sister churches of 
Scotland and Ireland,* and in a few instances in this 
country, namely, laying it on the ruling elders, and 
uniting both offices in the same individual, it is un- 
doubtedly liable to very strong objections, as will appear 
from the following considerations. 

1. One office is quite enough to be borne by the same 
person ; especially an office so important, so responsible, 
so abundantly sufficient to employ the heart, the hands, 
and the time of the most active and zealous, as that of 
the ruling elder. However pious, wise, and unwearied 
he may be, he will find the work pertaining to his office 
as elder, enough, and more than enough, especially in 
this day of enlarged Christian activity to put in requi- 
sition all his powers. Why then add another office to 
one already occupied, if he be faithful to the utmost 
extent of his faculties? Similar remarks may be made 
to a considerable extent concerning the deacon's office. 
It is enough when faithfully discharged, to occupy all 
the leisure time of the most active and faithful incum- 
bent. Both certainly cannot be undertaken by the 
same individual, without some of the duties pertaining 
to one or the other being neglected. 

2. Where there are suitable candidates for office 
among the communicants of a church, it is commonly 

* The same mixture of offices has also long- existed, it is 
believed in the Church of Geneva. See Le Mercier's Ch. Hist, 
of Gen. p. 214. 


wise to distribute offices as extensively among them as 
circmnstances will conveniently admit. If indeed, there 
be a dearth of proper materials for making ecclesiastical 
officers, the difficulty must be surmounted in the best 
way that is practicable. But if there be individuals 
enough to sustain it, the diffusion of office-power among 
a considerable number, is so far from being an evil, that 
it is manifestly, and may be highly advantageous. It 
brings a greater number to take an interest in the affairs 
of the church. It makes a greater number intimately 
acquainted with the concerns of the church. And by 
calling a greater number to pray, and speak, and act in 
behalf of the church, it tends to promote the spiritual, 
and it may be the everlasting benefit of them and 
their children. Why, then, heap a plurality of offices 
upon a single person ? It is depriving the church of a 
manifest advantage, and may be the means of depri- 
\'mcr the individuals themselves of both comfort and 

3. If there be not an absolute imcompatibility be- 
tween the offices of ruling elder and deacon, there is 
at least such an interference between their respective 
duties, as is certainly undesirable, and ought by all 
means to be avoided. There is a collision in this case 
analagous to that which takes place, when a man visits 
the sick in the double character of a physician and 
minister of the Gospel. For although in many cases, 
the duties and services of each character may happily 
harmonize and help one another ; yet perhaps, in 
many more, it will appear to the discerning eye that 
they had better be separated. When an elder, as such, 
goes forth to the discharge of his official duties, it is to 
promote the spiritual interest of the flock of which he 
is made one of the " overseers." To this purpose it is 
important that he should have the most unreserved and 
confidential access to all the members of the flock and 
their children ; and that nothing should be allowed to 
intervene which was adapted to disguise the feelings, to 
divide the attention, or to clog the operations of either 


party. But if, when this elder visits the poor for the 
sake of benefitting their souls, they receive him with 
smiles, with apparent cordiality, and with much pious 
talk, chiefly for the concealed purpose of increasing the 
allowance which, as deacon, he may be disposed to 
minister to them : or, when he visits them as a dea- 
con, they feel jealous, or alienated on account of some 
supposed deficiency in that allowance, and of course 
in some measure close their minds against him as their 
spiritual guide : or, when the mind of the Presbyter 
deacon himself becomes divided and perplexed between 
the rival claims of these two classes of duties, less good 
is done, less pure unmingled feeling exercised, and 
less comfort enjoyed on either side.* 

On all these accounts, the two offices in question, as 
they are entirely different in their nature, ought un- 
doubtedly to be separated in practice, to be discharged 
by different persons, and to be carefully guarded 
against that interference which is adapted to render 
both less useful. 

We are led, then, by the foregoing facts and argu- 
ments, to the following conclusions : — 

1. That the deacon is a divinely instituted officer, 
and ought to be retained in the church. 

2. That the function to which the deacon was ap- 
pointed by the apostles, was to manage the pecuniary 
affairs of the church, and especially to preside over 
the collections and disbursements for the poor. 

3. That deacons, therefore, ought not only to be 
men of piety, but also of judgment, prudence, know- 
ledge of the world, and weight of character. 

4. That preaching was not, in the primitive church, 
any part of the deacon's duty, but came in among 
other human innovations, as corruption gained ground. 

5. That there is no warrant whatever for assigning 

* See this subject treated in a striking- manner, and at con- 
siderable length, in Dr. Chalmers' Christian and Civic Economy 
of Large Towns. Vol. i. chapter vii. 


to deacons the function of government in the church, 
and that their undertaking any such function, is 
nothing less than ecclesiastical usurpation. 

6. That confounding the office of deacon with that 
of ruling elder, is an unwarranted confusion, both of 
names and offices, which are entirely distinct. 

7. That even the uniting of these two offices in the 
same persons is by no means advisable, and tends 
materially to impair the comfort and usefulness of 

8. That deacons ought to be ordained by the im- 
position of hands. In this ordination the hands of 
the pastor and of the eldership ought to be laid on. 
I know not the shadow of a reason why this solemnity 
should be omitted. The venerable Dr. Dwight, in 
his System of Theology, when treating on the office 
of deacons, unequivocally declares his conviction that 
the laying on of hands ought always to be employed 
in setting them apart, and pronounces the omission of 
it to be " incapable, so far as he knows, of any de- 
fence." The disregard of scriptural example in the 
omission, is as painful as it is obvious and unques- 

9. That the deacons, although they ought always, 
if possible, to be present at the meetings of the church 
session, for the sake of giving information and aiding 
in counsel, can have no vote as church rulers, and, 
therefore, cannot give their vote in the admission or 
exclusion of members, or in any case of ecclesiastical 



The account which has been given of the nature 
and duties of the office of ruling elder, is adapted to 
reflect much light on the qualifications by which he 
who bears it ought to be distinguished. Those who 
are called to such extensive, interesting, and highly 
important spiritual duties — duties which enter so 
deeply into the comfort and edification of the Church 
of God — it surely requires no formal argument to 
show, ought to possess a character in some degree 
corresponding with the sphere in which they are ap- 
pointed to move. There cannot be a plainer dictate 
of common sense. Yet to attempt a brief sketch of 
the more important of the qualifications demanded for 
this office, may not be altogether unprofitable. 

And here it may be observed, in the outset, that it 
is by no means necessary that ruling elders should be 
aged persons. For although it cannot be doubted that 
the title is literally expressive of age ; and although it 
is equally certain, that, originally, the office was 
generally conferred on men somewhat advanced in 
life, as being most likely, other things being equal, to 
possess wisdom, prudence, experience, and weight of 


character; yet the term, from a very early period, 
came to be a mere title of office, without any respect 
to the years of the individual who bore it. This is 
evident, not only from the history of Jewish practice, 
but also from the statements of the New Testament. 
If Timothy was not merely a ruling, but also a teach- 
ing elder, though so young a man that the apostle 
said to him — Let no man despise thy youth ; and if, 
in every age of the church, young men have been con- 
sidered as qualified, on the score of age, to be elders 
that labour in the word and doctrine as well as rule, 
there can be no doubt that young men, if otherwise 
well qualified, may with propriety be appointed elders 
to assist in ruling the Church of God. Nay, where 
such persons, with other suitable qualifications, are to 
be found, it is expedient to introduce some in younger 
life into the eldership of every church; not only that 
there may be individuals in the body fitted for more 
active duties, but also that some of the number may 
have that kind of official training, and that familiarity 
with ecclesiastical business, which early experience 
and long habit alone can give. 

It may be remarked, however, that although neither 
scripture, nor the constitution of the presbyterian 
church, prescribes any absolute rule with respect to 
the age of those who may be considered as candidates 
for the eldership ; yet it is very manifest, that those 
who are either minors in age, or " novices " in the 
Christian character and profession, ought by no means, 
in ordinary circumstances, to be elected to this office. 
In the Church of Scotland, the rule is, that no one 
can be chosen an elder who is not twenty-one years of 
age. A similar regulation, it is believed, exists in 
some other foreign churches; and it may be consi- 
dered as a dictate of common prudence. 

But, though the circumstance of age, as a general 
rule, does not enter into the essential qualifications of 
ruling elders, there are other qualifications which are 
highly important, and indeed indispensable. These 


are stated by the inspired apostle, in writing to 
Timothy, in the following comprehensive and pointed 
language : — " An elder must be blameless, the husband 
of one wife, having faithful children ; one that ruleth 
well his own house, having his children in subjection 
with all gravity; not accused of riot, or unruly; not 
self-willed ; not soon angry ; not given to wine ; no 
striker; not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hos- 
pitality; a lover of good men; sober, just, holy, tem- 
perate, sound in the faith, in charity, in patience.'* 
See Timothy iii. compared with Titus i. G — 8, and ii. 
2, which passages evidently appear, on tracing the 
connection, to be equally applicable to teaching and 

The design of appointing persons to the office of 
ruling elder is, not to pay them a compliment ; not 
to give them an opportunity of figuring as speakers in 
judicatories; not to create the pageants of ecclesias- 
tical ceremony ; but to secure able, faithful, and truly 
devoted counsellors and rulers of the church. To 
obtain wise and efficient guides, who shall not only go 
along with the flock in their journey heavenward, but 
go before them in every thing that pertains to Chris- 
tian duty. 

It cannot be doubted, indeed, that every member of 
the Christian church is bound to exhibit a holy, de- 
vout, and exemplary life ; to have his mind well stored 
with religious knowledge; to be able to give an answer 
to every one that asketh a reason of the hope that is 
in him ; and to avoid every thing that is criminal in 
itself, that may be just cause of offence to his breth- 
ren, or that may have even the appearance of evil. 
But it is equally manifest, that all these qualifications 
are still more important, and required in a still higher 
degree in those who are intrusted with the spiritual 
inspection and regulation of the church. As they 
occupy a place of more honour and authority than 
the other members of the church, so they also occupy 
a station of greater responsibility. The eyes of hun- 


(Ireds will be upon them as elders, which were not 
upon them as private Christians. Their brethren and 
sisters, over whom they are placed in the Lord, will 
naturally look up to them for advice, for instruction, 
for aid in the spiritual life, and for a shining example. 
The expectation is reasonable, and ought not to be 
disappointed. The qualifications of elders, therefore, 
ought, in some good measure, to correspond with it. 

1. An elder, then, ought, first of all, to be a man 
of unfeigned and approved piety. It is to be re- 
gretted when the piety of any member of the church 
is doubtful, or evidently feeble and wavering. It is 
deplorable when any who name the name of Christ 
manifest so much indecision in their profession — so 
much timidity and unsteadiness in their resistance to 
error and sin — so much conformity to the world, and 
so little of that undaunted, ardent, and thorough 
adherence to their professed principles, as to leave it 
dubious with many whether they are " on the Lord's 
side" or not. But how much more deplorable when 
any thing of this kind appears in those who are ap- 
pointed to watch, to preside, and to exert an extensive 
influence over a portion of the family of Christ ! 
What is to be expected, when " watchmen on the 
walls of Zion " — for such ruling elders are undoubtedly 
to be regarded — appear as beacons to warn private 
Christians of what ought to be avoided, rather than 
as models to guide, to attract, and to cheer them on 
to all that is spiritual, and holy, and becoming the 

Can he who is either destitute of piety, or who has 
but a small portion of it, engage in the arduous and 
deeply spiritual duties of the ruling elder with comfort 
to himself, or with any reasonable hope of success? 
It cannot be supposed. To fit ecclesiastical rulers 
for acting in their appropriate character, and for per- 
forming the work which pertains to it, with cordial 
diligence, faithfulness, and perseverance, will require 
cordial and decisive attachment to the service of th£ 


church; minds intent upon the work; hearts filled 
with love to Jesus and to the souls of men, and pre- 
ferring Jerusalem above their chief joy. Unless they 
are animated with this affectionate interest in their 
work ; unless they are habitually impelled by an en- 
lightened and cordial attachment to the great cause 
in which they are engaged, they will soon become 
weary of their arduous and self-denying labours ; they 
will find waiting on the flock, visiting and praying 
with the sick, instructing the serious and inquir- 
ing, correcting the disorderly, watching over the 
spiritual interests of all, and attending the various 
judicatories of the church, an irksome task. But 
with such a zeal as has been described, they will be 
ready to contend for the truth, to engage in the mo&t 
self-denying duties, nay, to "spend and be spent" 
for Christ. To promote the best interests of Zion 
will be their " meat and drink." No labours, no 
trials, no difficulties will move them, neither will they 
count their lives dear unto themselves, so that they 
may finish their course with joy, and accomplish the 
work which they have received of the Lord Jesus. 
A few such elders in every church would, with the 
divine blessing, do more to silence infidelity — to strike 
even the scorner dumb— to promote the triumph of 
gospel truth — and to rouse, sustain, and bear forward 
the cause of vital piety, than hundreds of those mini- 
sters and elders who act as if they supposed that 
supplying the little details of an ecclesiastical formality 
was the whole purpose of their official appointment. 
And, in truth, we have no reason to expect, in general, 
that the piety of the mass of members, in any church, 
will rise much higher than that of their rulers and 
guides. Where the latter are either lifeless formalists, 
or, at best, but " babes in Christ," we shall rarely 
find many under their care of more vitality or of 
superior stature. 

2. Next to piety, it is important that a ruling elder 
be possessed of good sense and sound judgment. 


Without this he will be wholly unfit to act in the 
various difficult and delicate cases which may arise in 
the discharge of his duty. A man of weak and child- 
ish mind, however fervent his piety, is by no means 
adapted to the station of an ecclesiastical ruler, coun- 
sellor, and guide. He who bears the office in question 
is called to have intercourse with all classes of people ; 
to engage in the most arduous and trying duties, and 
to deliberate and decide on some of the most perplex- 
ing questions that can come before the human mind. 
Can it be doubted, that good sense and solid judg- 
ment are indispensable to the due discharge of such 
official work as this? How would a judge on the 
bench, or a magistrate in his office, be likely to get 
along without this qualification? Much more im- 
portant is it, if possible, that the ecclesiastical ruler be 
enlightened and judicious, because he deliberates and 
decides on more momentous subjects, and because he 
has no other than moral power with which to enforce 
his decisions. Moses, therefore, spoke the language 
of good sense, as well as of inspired wisdom, when he 
said to the people of Israel, (Deut. i. 13,) " Take ye 
wise men, and undei'standing, and known among your 
tribes, and I will make them rulers over you." This 
point, indeed, it would seem, can scarcely be made 
more plain than common sense makes it, and might, 
therefore, be considered as foreclosing all illustration, 
did not some churches appear disposed to make the 
experiment, how far infinite wisdom is to be believed 
when it pronounces, by the prophet, a wo against 
those who make choice of babes to rule over them. 

3. A ruling elder ought to be sound in the faith, 
and well informed in relation to gospel truth. The 
elder who is not orthodox in his creed, instead of con- 
tributing as he ought to build up the church in the 
knowledge and love of the truth, will of course be the 
means of scattering error, as far as his influence 
extends. And he who is not well informed on the 
subject of Christian doctrine, will not know whether 



he is promoting the one or the other. Accordingly, 
when this class of officers is ordained in our church, 
we call upon them to do what we do not require from 
the private members of the church, viz. solemnly and 
publicly to adopt the Confession of Faith, " as con- 
taining the system of doctrine taught in the Holy 
Scriptures." When this is considered, and also that 
they are expected to be, to a certain extent, instructors 
and guides in divine things to many of those committed 
to their oversight; and, above all, that they will be often 
called to deliberate on charges of heresy, as well as 
immorality, and to sit in judgment on the doctrinal 
belief, not only of candidates for admission into the 
church as private members, but also on cases of 
alleged aberration from the truth in ministers of the 
;ospel ; the necessity of their being " sound in the 
kith," and of their having enlightened and clear views 
of the system of revealed truth, is too plain to need 
argument for its support. 

The truth is, the ruling elder who is active, zealous, 
and faithful, will have occasion, almost every day, to 
discriminate betwen truth and error, to act as a 
guardian of the church's orthodoxy, to pass his judg- 
ment, either privately or judicially, on real or supposed 
departures from it, and to instruct the inexperienced 
and the doubting in the great doctrines of our holy re- 
ligion. And although all elders are not expected to 
be profound theologians any more than all ministers, 
yet that the former as well as the latter should have 
a general and accurate acquaintance with the gospel 
system, and be ready to defend its leading doctrines, by 
a ready, pertinent, and conclusive reference to scriptural 
testimony, and thus be able to " separate between the 
precious and the vile," in theory as well as in practice, 
is surely as little as can possibly be demanded of those 
who are placed as leaders and guides in the house of 
God. ^ 

4. Again, an elder ought to be a man of eminent 
prudence. By prudence here is, of course, not meant 


that spurious characteristic which calls itself by this 
name, but which ought rather to be called timidity, or 
a criminal shrinking from duty, on the plea that "there 
is a lion in the way." Yet while we condemn this as 
unworthy of a Christian, and especially unworthy of a 
Christian counsellor and ruler, there is a prudence 
which is genuine and greatly to be coveted. This is 
no other than practical Christian wisdom which not 
only discerns what is right, but also adopts the best 
mode of doing it ; which is not at all inconsistent with 
firmness, and the highest moral courage, but which 
happily regulates and directs it. It has been often 
observed that there is a right and a wrong way of doing 
the best things. The thing done may be excellent in 
itself, but may be done in a manner, at a time, and 
attended with circumstances, which will be likely to dis- 
gust and repel, and thus prevent all benefit. Hence a 
man who is characteristically eccentric, undignified, 
rash, precipitate, or indiscreetly talkative, ought by no 
means to be selected as an ecclesiastical ruler. He will 
probably do more mischief than good, will generally 
create more divisions than he heals, and will rather 
generate offences than remove them. Perhaps there is 
no situation in human society which more imperiously 
calls for delicacy, caution, reserve, and the most vigilant 
discretion, than that of an ecclesiastical ruler. If popu- 
lar rumour begin to charge a church member with 
some delinquency either in faith or practice; let one of 
the elders, under the notion of being faithful, implicitly 
credit the story, go about making inquh'ies respecting 
its truth, winking and insinuating, and thus contributing 
to extend its circulation ; and however pure his motives, 
he may, before he is aware, implicate himself in the 
charge of slander, and become so situated, in respect to 
the supposed culprit, as to render it altogether improper 
that he should sit in judgment on his case. The maxim 
of the wise man — " be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow 
to wrath," applies to every human being, especially to 
every professing Christian, but above all to every one 


who is appointed to maintain truth, order, purity, peace 
and love in the Church, of God. 

It requires much prudence to judge when it is pro- 
per to commence the exercise of discipline against a 
supposed offender. Discipline is an important, nay, a 
vital matter in the Christian church. But it may be 
commenced indiscreetly, vexatiously, when that which 
is alleged cannot be shown to be an offence against the 
divine law; or when, though a really censurable offence, 
there is no probability that it can be proved. To 
attempt the exercise of discipline in such cases is to 
disgrace it, to convert it from one of the most impor- 
tant means of grace into an instrument of rashness, 
petulance, and childish precipitancy. Often, very 
often has the very name of discipline been rendered 
odious, the peace of families and neighbourhoods 
grievously disturbed, the influence of ecclesiastical 
judicatories destroyed, and the cause of religion deeply 
wounded, by judicial proceedings, which ought either 
never to have been commenced, or to which the 
smallest measure of prudence would have given a very 
different direction. 

The importance of the subject constrains me to 
add, that prudence, much prudence is also imperiously 
demanded in the exercise of a dignified and cautious 
reserve while ecclesiastical process is pending. One 
great reason why it is thought better by Presbyterians 
to exercise discipline rather by a bench of wise and pious 
ecclesiastical senators, than by the vote of the whole 
body of church members, is, that the public discus- 
sion and decision of many things concerning personal 
character, which the exercise of discipline necessarily 
discloses respecting others, as well as the culprit, is 
adapted in many cases to do more harm than good, 
especially before the process is closed. To guard against 
this evil, it is very important that the elders carefully 
avoid all unseasonable disclosures in respect to the busi- 
ness which may be at any time before the Session. 
Until they have done what shall be deemed proper, in a 


delicate case it is surely unwise, by thoughtless blabbing, 
to throw obstacles in their own way, and perhaps to 
defeat the whole purpose which they have in view. 
Yet how often, by one imprudent violation of this plain 
rule, has the discipline of the church been degraded or 
frustrated, and the character of those who administered 
it exposed to ridicule ? 

These, and similar considerations, serve clearly to 
show, that no degree of piety can supersede the 
necessity of prudence in ecclesiastical rulers ; and that, 
of all characters in a congregation, an indiscreet, 
meddling, garrulous, gossiping, tattling elder, is one 
of the most pestiferous. 

5. It is important that an elder be " of good report 
of them that are without." The circumstance of his 
being chosen to the office by the members of the 
church, does, indeed, afford strong presumption that 
he sustains among them an unexceptionable character. 
But it is also of great importance that this class of 
officers, as well as those who " labour in the word 
and doctrine," should stand well with those who are 
without, as well as those who are within the pale of 
the Christian community. The ecclesiastical ruler 
may often be called, in discharging his official duties, 
to converse with the worldly and profane, who have 
no particular regard either for his master or his 
office. Nay, he must be almost every day that he 
lives the object of the scrutiny of such men. In this 
case it is peculiary desirable that his personal character 
be such as to command universal respect and confi- 
dence ; that it be not liable to any particular suspicion 
or imputation; but that, on the contrary, it possess 
such weight and respectability in the community, as 
will render him an aid and a blessing to his eccle- 
siastical connection. To this end, his unbending 
integrity in all the walks of life ; his spotless probity 
and honour in every pecuniary transaction ; his gravity 
and dignity in all the intercourse of society ; his 
exemplary government of his own family ; his abstrac- 


tion from all unhallowed conformity to the world; — 
ought to present in some good measure a pattern 
of Christian consistency. It is saying little in favour 
of a church officer, to allege that his reputation is such 
that he does no harm to the ecclesiastical body with 
which he is connected. It is to be regretted if he do 
not promote its benefit every day by his active services, 
and extend its influence by the lustre of his example. 

6. A ruling elder ought to be a man of public spirit 
and enlarged views. He who is called by his official 
duty to plan and labour for the extension of the 
Redeemer's kingdom, surely ought not, of all men, to 
have a narrow and illiberal mind ; to be sparing of 
labour, parsimonious in feeling and habit, or contented 
with small attainments. It is eminendy desirable, 
then, that a ruling elder be a man of expanded heart 
toward other denominations, as far as is consistent with 
entire fidelity to scriptural truth and order; that he aim 
high in spiritual attainment and progress; thathe be will- 
ing to give much, to labour much, and to make sacrifices 
for the cause of Christ; and that he be continually 
looking and praying for the further enlargement and 
prosperity of Zion. Such a man will not be willing to 
see the church fall asleep, or stagnate. Such a man's 
mind will be teeming with desires, plans, and prayers for 
the advancement of the Saviour's cause. Such a man 
will not content himself, nor be satisfied to see others 
contenting: themselves, with a little round of friojidform- 
alities, or with the interests of a single parish; but the 
aspirations of his heart, and the active efforts of his life, 
will be directed to the extension and prosperity of the 
church in all its borders, and to the universal establish- 
ment and triumph of that gospel which is " the power 
of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." 

The qualification of which we speak has been, in all 
ages, and from the nature of the case must ever be, of 
inestimable importance in every ruler and guide of the 
church. But we may venture to pronounce that it never 
was so important to the church that she should have 


such rulers as it is at the present day. Now that she is 
awaking from her slumber, and arousing to a sense of her 
long forgotten obligations — now that she is, as we hope, 
arising from the dust, and " putting on her beautiful 
garments," and looking abroad in the length and 
breadth of those conquests which have been promised 
her by her Almighty Head — now that all her resources, 
physical and moral, are called for in every direction, with 
an emphasis and a solemnity never before equalled — 
is it not manifest that all who, in such a stage of her 
course, undertake to be her counsellors and guides, 
ought to be neither drones nor cowards, neither par- 
simonious of labour and sacrifice, nor disposed to sit 
dow^n contented with small acquisitions? Ruling elders 
at the present day have perhaps an opportunity of 
serving the church more extensively and effectually 
than ever before. How desirable and important then, 
that they have a heart in some measure commensurate 
with the calls and opportunities of the day in which 
their lot is cast ! How desirable that they cherish those 
enlarged and liberal views, both of duty and effort, 
which become those who are called to a conspicuous 
and interesting part in a cause which is dear to all 
holy beings ! So important is this, that it is probable 
we shall generally find that in liberality of contribution 
to the various objects of Christian effort, and in en- 
largement of mind to desire and seek the extension of 
the Redeemer's kingdom, the mass of the members of 
any church may commonly be graduated by the char- 
acter of their elders. If the leaders and guides of the 
church be destitute of public spirit, and be not found 
taking the lead in large plans, labours, and sacrifices, 
for extending the reign of knowledge, truth, and 
righteousness ; it will be strange, indeed, if a more en- 
larged spirit be found prevailing among the generality 
of their fellow members. 

7. The last qualification on which I shall dwell, as 
important in the office before us, is ardent zeal and 
a spirit of importunate prayer. Large views, and 


liberal plans and donations, will not answer without 
this. The truth is, the Church of God has the most 
serious and unceasing obstacles to encounter in every 
step of her progress. As long as she is faithful, her 
course is never smooth or unobstructed. In maintain- 
ing truth, in guarding the claims of gospel holiness, 
and in sustaining discipline, the enmity of the human 
heart will not fail to manifest itself, and to offer more 
or less resistance to that which is good. The worldly 
and profane will ever be found in the ranks of deter- 
mined opposition. And, alas ! that some who bear the 
name of Christ are not unfrequently found in the 
same ranks ; thus grieving the hearts and trying the 
patience of those who are called to act as the repre- 
sentatives and leaders of the church. To meet and 
overcome difficulties of this kind, requires all the fixed- 
ness of purpose, and all the zeal in the service of Christ, 
which his most devoted servants can bring to their 

Besides all this, there is much in the daily duties of 
the ruling elder which puts to a very serious test all 
his devotedness to the cause of his Master. He is called 
to live like a minister of the gospel, in the very atmos- 
phere of prayer and religious conversation. In the 
chamber of the sick and dying, in conversing with the 
anxious inquirer and the perplexed or desponding be- 
liever in the private circle, and in the social meeting 
for prayer, abroad and at home, in the house and by 
the way, it must be " his meat and drink" to be found 
ministering to the best interests of his fellow-men. So 
that if he have but little zeal, but little taste for prayer, 
but litde anxiety for the welfare of immortal souls, 
he will not, he cannot enter with proper feeling into 
his appropriate employments. But if he be animated 
with a proper spirit, he will find it pleasant to be thus 
employed. Instead of shunning scenes and opportuni- 
ties of usefulness he will diligently seek them. And 
instead of finding them wearisome, he will feel no hap- 


piness more pure and rich than that which he expe- 
riences in such occupations as these. 

It is evident, then, not only that the ecclesiastical 
ruler ought to have unfeigned piety, but that his 
piety ought to be of that decisive character, and accom- 
panied with that fervent zeal, which bears its possessor 
forward without weariness in the discharge of self- 
denying duties. The higher the degree in which he pos- 
sesses this characteristic, provided it be accompanied 
with wisdom, prudence, and a knowledge of human 
nature, the greater will probably be his usefulness in 
the church which he serves ; and the greater assuredly 
will be his own personal enjoyment in rendering that 

It is more than possible that this view of the qualifi- 
cations proper for the office which we are considering, 
may cause some, when solicited to undertake it, to draw 
back under the conscientious impression that they have 
not the characteristics which are essential to the faith- 
ful discharge of its duties. And it would be wrong to 
say that there are not some cases, in which such an 
impression ought to be admitted. There can be no 
doubt that there are those who bear this office who 
ought never to have accepted it. To this class unques- 
tionably belong all those who have no taste for the 
appropriate duties of the office, and who do not resolve 
sedulously and faithfully to perform them. But let no 
humble devoted follower of Jesus Christ, who truly 
desires to serve and glorify him, and who is willing 
from the heart to do all that God shall enable him, for 
the promotion of the Redeemer's kingdom ; let not 
him be deterred by the representation which has been 
given from accepting the office, if called to it by his 
Christian brethren. The deeper his sense of his own 
unfitness, the more likely will he be to apply unceas- 
ingly and importunately for heavenly aid, and the 
nearer he lives to the throne of grace the more largely 
will he partake of that wisdom and strength which he 
needs. There are no doubt some, as we said, who are 


really unqualified for this office ; but, in general, it may 
be maintained that those who have the deepest im- 
pression of the importance and arduousness of its duties, 
and of their own want of adequate qualifications, are 
far better prepared for those duties than such as 
advance to the discharge of them with unwavering 
confidence and self-complacency. 




Under this general head a variety of questions 
occur, the solution of which is important. 

I. In the first place, who are the proper electors 
of ruling elders ? This question is not definitely re- 
solved by the " Form of Government" of the Presby- 
terian Church in the United States. Its language is as 
follows : — " Every congregation shall elect persons to 
the office of ruling elder, and to the office of deacon, 
or either of them, in the mode most approved and in 
use in that congregation ; but, in all cases, the persons 
elected must be jiiale members in full communion 
in the church in which they are to exercise their 

When a new church is to be organized, and when 
of course there are no elders already in office, applica- 
tion ought to be made to the presbytery, stating the 
wishes of those who contemplate forming the church, 
requesting their sanction, and also the appointment of 
one or more of their number to preside in the election 
and ordination of the candidates for the respecitive 
offices of elders and deacons. The person or persons 
thus appointed by the presbytery to act in the case, 
after causing due and regular notice of their appoint- 
T 2 

ment and its object to be given, ought to meet with the 
members of the congregation, to preach on the subject 
which occasions the meeting, to explain the nature and 
importance of the office ; and, having done this, to call 
upon those who may be qualified as electors to give 
their votes for such of their number as they would 
wish to have as their spiritual rulers. Having done 
this openly in the face of the congregation, the ordina- 
tion of the elders elect may either take place on the 
spot before the assembly shall separate, or may be 
postponed to a future time, as may be judged most 
expedient. By this is meant, that the election in this 
case, being made immediately by a popular vote of the 
members of the church, there is no need of postponing 
the ordination for the purpose of propounding the 
names of the persons elected from the pulpit, as is 
necessary and practised in other cases. In the case 
supposed, the ftill concurrence of the persons entitled 
to vote in the choice made, has been already ascertained 
by their suffrages. 

In this choice, the votes may be given either viva 
voce^ or by ballot. The latter method, however, is by 
far the most common, and is evidently the most proper, 
for a variety of reasons, some of which will readily 
occur to every enlightened and delicate mind. 

Concerning the persons who are properly entitled to 
vote in such an election, there has been some diversity 
of opinion. That all the male members of the church 
in what is called "full communion" have this right, 
there can be no question. In this all are agreed. But 
it has been maintained, not indeed with the same 
unanimity, yet it is believed by a large majority of the 
most judicious and enlightened judges, and probably on 
the most correct principles, that all baptized members 
of the church, who must be of course regarded as 
subject to the government and discipline administered 
by these rulers, are entitled to a voice in their election. 
And where there are female heads of families, who 
bear the relation of membership to the church in either 


of the senses just mentioned, and who are not repre- 
sented by some qualified male relative on the occasion, 
it has been judged proper to allow them to vote in the 
choice of ruling elders, as is generally the case in the 
choice of a pastor. 

There seems, however, to be some good reason for 
restricting the right to vote for ruling elders within 
narrower bounds than are commonly assigned in the 
choice of a pastor. In that choice, in most congrega- 
tions, all pew-holders, and all stated worshippers who 
are stated contributors to the support of the pastor in 
their just proportion, whether baptized or not, whether 
willing to submit to the exercise of discipline or not, 
and whether of fair moral character or not, are con- 
sidered as entitled to a vote. But, in the election of a 
pastor, there is one security against an improper choice 
which does not exist in the case of a ruling elder; 
namely, that the call must be submitted to the presby- 
tery, and receive the sanction of that body before it can 
be prosecuted. Whereas, no such security exists in 
the case of a ruling elder. Of course, if all pew- 
holders and pecuniary supporters, without any refer- 
ence to member-ship or character, were allowed to 
vote in the election of the latter class of officers, they 
might choose persons to the last degree unsuitable for 
the office, and adapted to destroy rather than benefit 
the church. Besides, every one, however heterodox or 
immoral, may be a stated attendant on public worship; 
and every stated attendant on the worship of any 
church may be said to have an interest in the charac- 
ter of the pastor, and a right, as far as may be, to be 
pleased in the choice : but no one can be said to have 
any part or particular interest in the discipline of the 
church, excepting those who are subject to its opera- 
tion, which can be the case with none but those who 
are members of the church. 

Accordingly, the General Assembly of the church, 
which met in 1829, in answer to a question solemnly 


referred to it by one of the western presbyteries* — 
adopted, and sent to the churches the following judg- 
ment, in relation to the subject before us: — " It is the 
opinion of this General Assembly, that the office of 
ruling elder is an office in the Church of Christ ; that 
ruling elders, as such, according to our Confession of 
Faith, book 1. on Government, chapter v. are the re- 
presentatives of the people, by whom they are chosen 
for the purpose of exercising government and discip- 
line in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ; that 
the discipline lawfully exercised by them is the dis- 
cipline exercised through them by their constituents, 
in whose name, and by whose authority, they act in all 
that they do.f To suppose, therefore, that an unbap- 
tized person, not belonging to the visible kingdom of 
the Redeemer, might vote at the election of ruling 
elders, would be to establish the principle, that the 
children of this world might, through their represen- 
tatives, exercise discipline in the Church of God; 
which is manifestly unscriptural, and contrary to the 
standards of our church. Resolved, therefore, that 
the question in the said overture be answered in the 

Where there is already an existing church session, 
and the object is to add to the number of its members, 
in this case the election of new elders may be made in 
any one of several methods : — either by the vote of the 
members of the church at large, as already stated ; or 

* The question submitted was in these words — " Ought an 
unbaptized person, who yet pays his proportion for the support 
of a congregation, to be permitted to vote for ruling elders ?" 

f It is well known that the General Assembly, in this clause 
of their judgment, did not mean to deny that ruling elders, in 
the rightful discharge of their duties, act in the name and by 
the authority of Christ This great truth is plainly recognized 
in a preceding clause. But merely to say, that they act as the 
representatives, and on the behalf of the members of the church 
at large; so that when a complaint is brought to the eldership, 
it is, strictly speaking, according to ancient language, " telling 
it to the church." 


by a nomination on the part of the existing elders, 
proposed to the church, and considered as their choice, 
if not objected to ; or by the nomination of double the 
number proposed to be chosen by the session, and a 
choice by the members of the church out of the list so 

In the Church of Scotland, " new elders are chosen 
by the voice of the session.* After their election has 
been agreed upon, their names are read from the pul- 
pit in a paper called an edict, appointing a day, at the 
distance of not less than ten days for their ordination. 
If no member of the congregation offer any objection 
upon that day, or if the session find the objections 
that are offered frivolous, or unsupported by evidence, 
the minister proceeds, in the face of the congregation, 
to ordain the new elders."f 

The same method of adding new elders to existing 
church sessions is adopted, in substance, by many 
Presbyterian churches in the United States. The 
church sessions, in these congregations, judge when it 
is proper to make an addition to the number of elders ;| 
deliberate on the proper candidates ; ascertain privately 
whether they will serve if appointed ; and, after com- 
pleting, with due consideration and care, their lists 

* In the infancy of the Reformed Church in Scotland, the 
mode of electing ruling elders was by no means uniform. In some 
churches the existing session made a nomination to the church 
members, out of which a choice was made by the latter. In 
other churches, the choice was made immediately by the com- 
municants at large. In some churches the session appointed 
electors ; and in others, they acted as electors themselves. It 
was a number of years before the practice stated above as the 
prevalent one, became general. — M'Crie's Life of Melville, ii. p. 
477, 478. 

f Hill's Institutes. Part ii. Section 4th, p. 212, 213. 

J It is hardly necessary to say, that when the church session, 
in any such congregation, shall be considered as unduly delaying 
to make a suitable addition of new elders to their number, it is 
the privilege of the members of the church, after due application 
and remonstrance to the session, without effect, to apply to the 
presbytery for the redress of their alleged grievance. 


cause them to be announced by their moderator from 
the pulpit, on several successive Sabbaths; — after which, 
at the proper time, their ordination takes place. This 
plan of choosing has some real advantages. When 
wisely executed, it may be supposed likely to lead to a 
more calm, judicious, and happy choice, than would 
probably result from a popular vote, especially where 
no consultation and understanding had taken place 
among the more grave, pious, and prudent of the 
church members. And, therefore, where this plan has 
been long in use, and unanimously acquiesced in, it 
had, perhaps, better not be changed. Yet it seems to 
be more in harmony with the general spirit of Presby- 
terian church government, and certainly with the pre- 
vailing character of our institutions, to refer the choice, 
where it can conveniently be done, after due consul- 
tation and care, to the suffrages of the members of the 

Accordingly, the General Assembly of our Church, 
which convened in 182Tj in reply to a complaint made 
respecting the mode of electing elders adopted in one 
of the churches under the care of the presbytery of 
Philadelphia, pronounced the following judgment:— 

" While the assembly would recognize the undoubted 
right of each congregation to elect their elders in the 
mode most approved, and in use among them, they 
would recommend, that in all cases, where any dissa- 
tisfaction appears to exist, the congregation be promptly 
convened to decide on their future mode of election. 
And they are inclined to believe that the spirit of our 
constitution would be most fully sustained by having, 
in all cases, a direct vote of the congregation in the 
appointment of their elders." 

In the Church of Holland, the following is the 
general rule in regard to the election of this class of 
officers : — " The elders shall be chosen by the suffrages 
of the consistory, and of the deacons. In making this 
choice, it shall be lawful, as shall best suit the situation 
of each church, either to nominate as many elders as 

shall be judged necessary for the approbation of the 
members in full communion, and upon their being 
approved, and found acceptable, to confirm them with 
public prayers and engagements; or, to propose a 
double number, that the one half of those nominated 
may be chosen by the members, and in the same 
manner confirmed in their office." Accordingly, in 
that country, although an election by the members of 
the church sometimes takes place, yet the common 
method, it is believed, is for the consistory, or elder- 
ship of the church, together with the deacons, to make 
choice of new elders and deacons; in other words, to 
form a list of proper candidates for the office, to 
nominate them agreeably to a certain rule to the 
church, and if no objection be made to consider the 
person so nominated as the choice of the church. 

In the " explanatory articles " of government 
adopted by the Reformed Dutch Church in the United 
States, the following article explains the practice of 
that church in this country: — "The manner of choosing 
elders and deacons is not rigidly defined. A double 
number may be nominated by the consistory, out of 
which the members of the church may choose those 
who shall serve. Or, all the members of the church 
may unite in nominating and choosing the whole num- 
ber, without the interference of the consistory. Or, 
the consistory for the time being, as representing all 
the members, may choose the whole, and refer the per- 
sons thus chosen, by publishing them in the church, for 
the approbation of the people. The last method has 
been found most convenient, especially in large churches, 
and has long been generally adopted. But where 
that, or either of the other modes, has for many years 
been followed in any church, there shall be no varia- 
tion or change, but by previous application to the 
classis, and express leave first obtained for altering 
such custom."* 

* See the Constitution of the Reformed Dutch Church in the 
United States. 


In the Church of Geneva, the choice of elders and 
deacons is made in the manner which the foregoing 
article declares to be most common in the Dutch 
churches in the United States — namely, by a selection 
and nomination by the consistorial assembly, which, 
if not opposed, is final, and followed by the usual 
ordination, without the " laying on of hands."* 

The same method, also, of electing elders and 
deacons was early established in the Protestant churches 
of France. The consistory nominated, and the 
nomination was announced from the pulpit, for the 
approbation of the people.f 

11. The next question which arises is, how often 
ought this election to be made ? Is it for life, or for 
a limited time ? 

According to the original constitution of the Reformed 
Church of Scotland, the elders and deacons were 
chosen but for one year. This was the arrangement 
adopted in the " First Book of Discipline," formed in 
1560, and also in the " Second Book of Discipline," 
drawn up in 1578, and which continued for a number of 
years in the Scottish church. This plan seems to have 
been suggested by the earnest wish of the first elders 
themselves, who, finding the office burdensome, as it 
then involved much care and labour, begged permission 
to resign it to othersafter a single year. But although the 
election, at that time, was made annually, and a large 
portion of the incumbents of the office were actually 
changed every year ; yet the same men might be elected 
from year to year if they were willing to serve, and it 
sometimes happened, in fact, that a few whose piety 
and leisure rendered due attention to the duties of the 
office easy and pleasant, were re-elected for many suc- 
cessive years. The same form of ordination seems to 
have been repeated after every annual election, as well 
with respect to those who had often been ordained 

* See Mercier's Church History of Geneva, p. 209. 
f Quick's Synodicon, i. p. 27. 


before, as to those who had never submitted to this 

This practice, however, has been long since laid 
aside in the Church of Scotland; and the office of the 
ruling elder been for many years regarded as an office 
for life, as much as that of the ministry of the gospel. 

In the Protestant Churches of France also, the office 
in question was from the beginning, and it is believed 
still is temporary. The rule on this subject found in 
the Book of ♦' Discipline of the Reformed Churches of 
France," as drawn up by the first national Synod in 
1559, is in these remarkable words — " The office of 
elders and deacons as it is now in use among us, is not 
perpetual, yet because changes are not commodious, 
they shall be exhorted to continue in their offices 
as long as they can, and they shall not lay them 
down without having first obtained leave from their 

The Reformed Dutch Church in the United States, 
after the example of her parent Church in Europe, 
adopts the following plan for the election of elders and 
deacons: — "In order to lessen the burden of a perpetual 
attendance upon ecclesiastical duties, and by a rotation 
in office, to bring forward deserving members, it is the 
established custom in the Reformed Dutch Church, 
that elders and deacons remain only two years in 
service, after which they retire from their respective 
offices, and others are chosen in their places; the rotation 
being always conducted in such a manner, that only 
one half of the whole number retire each year. (See 
Syn. Dord. Art. 27.) But this does not forbid the 
liberty of immediately choosing the same persons again, 
if from any circumstances it may be judged expedient 
to continue them in office by a re-election."! 

Yet, notwithstanding this annual election, those who 
have ever borne the office of elder or deacon in the 

* Quick's Synodicon, p. 28. 

jjConstitutioii of the Reforraed Dutch Church in the U. States. 


Dutch Church, are still considered, though never re- 
elected, as bearing while they live a certain relation to 
the offices which they have sustained respectively. This 
appears from the following additional article found in 
the same code. " When matters of peculiar importance 
occur, particularly in calling a minister, building of 
churches, or whatever relates immediately to the peace 
and welfare of the whole congregation, it is usual (and 
it is strongly recommended upon such occasions, 
always) for the consistory to call together all those who 
have ever served as elders or deacons, that by their 
advice and counsel they may assist the members of the 
consistory. These when assembled constitute what 
is called the ' Great Consistory.' From the object or 
design of their assembling, the respective powers of each 
are easily ascertained. Those who are out of office, 
have only an advisory or counselling voice ; and, as 
they are not actual members of the board or corporation, 
cannot have a decisive vote. After obtaining their 
advice, it rests with the members of the consistory to 
follow the counsel given them or not as they shall 
judge proper." 

But in the Presbyterian Church in the United 
States, the office of ruling elder is now, and has been 
from the beginning, perpetual. The election to it is 
once for all. It of course continues through life, un- 
less the individual be deposed from office. Like a 
minister of the gospel, he cannot lay aside his office at 
pleasure.* He may indeed, from ill health or for 

* The writer is here statinjr what is the actual constitution 
of the Presbyterian church as to this point. He does not sup- 
pose, however, that there is any infringement of Presbyterian 
principle in the annual elections of ruling- elders, formerly 
practised in the Church of Scotland, and still practised in the 
Dutch and French Ciiurches. Where a church is lar^e, con- 
taining a sufficient number of grave, pious, and prudent mem- 
bers to furnish an advantageous rotation, and where the duties 
of the office are many and arduous, it may not be without its 
advantages to keep up some chang-e of incumbency in this 


other reasons, cease if he think proper, to perform the 
active duties of the office. But he is still an elder ; 
and if he recover his health, or the reason which in- 
duced him to withdraw be removed, he may resume 
the duties of the office without a new ordination. Of 
this, however, more in a subsequent chapter. 

III. A third question which arises under this head, 
is, How many elders ought to be elected in each 
church ? In answer to this question little more than 
considerations of expediency can be suggested. No 
absolute rule can be laid down. 

In the Jewish Synagogue, we are told there were 
commonly at least three ruling elders found in each 
ecclesiastical senate. In the time of Cyprian in the 
third centur}', there were in the single church of Car- 
thage, of which he was bishop or pastor, eight elders, 
of whom five were opposed to his being received as 
their pastor. Soon after the opening of the Reforma- 
tion in Scotland, and while there was only a single 
Protestant congregation in the city of Edinburgh, 
there were twelve elders, and sixteen deacons belong- 
ing to that church. Dunlop ii. 638. In the year 
1560, four years before the decease of Calvin, there 
were twelve ruling elders in the Church of Geneva. 
Calv. EpisL Gaspari Oleviano. 

The Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church 
in the United States, does not define the proper num- 
ber of elders in each church. Speaking of the church 
session, it declares (chapter 9, sect. 2,) that of this 
judicatory, " two elders, if there be as many in the 
congregation, with the pastor, shall be necessary to 
constitute a quorum." From this rule it seems to be a 
legitimate inference, that if there be only one elder in 

office. But in general, it seems manifest that the spiritual 
interests of a cong^regation will be likely to be manag-ed most 
steadily and to edification oy permanent officers, who are never 
even temporarily withdrawn from the sphere of duty in which 
they move, and who are daily gaining more knowledge of the 
church, and more experience. 


the congregation, he, with the pastor, may constitute a 
regular session for the transaction of business. The 
existence of so small a number as even two, however, 
is greatly to be regretted, and ought by no means to be 
submitted to, if proper candidates for the office can be 
found. In the smallest church it is desirable that there 
should be at least from five to seven elders. Without 
some such number, there cannot be that weight in their 
judicial counsels, and that influence drawn from every 
part of the congregation in aid of the pastor, and the 
best interests of the whole body, which a well selected 
bench of officers of that number would be likely to im- 
part. In large churches there ought to be at least ten 
or twelve : and in 'churches much beyond the usual 
size, fourteen or fifteen would not be more than enough 
to gain all the advantages which the best arrange- 
ment with regard to this office might be expected to 

It ought to be borne in mind, however, that there is 
no advantage whatever to be gained by electing un- 
suitable men to this office, for the sake of adding mere 
numbers to the church session. It is much better to 
get along with three or four pious, wise, and prudent 
elders, than to add two or three dozens to their ranks 
of men of an opposite stamp, w^ho by their want of 
piety and wisdom, might be a nuisance instead of a 
comfort, a curse instead of a blessing. Pastors, then, 
and their churches, instead of making haste to fill up 
the ranks of their congregational senators with un- 
suitable members, had better wait patiently until the 
Head of the Church shall provide for them candidates 
in some measure " after his own heart." 

IV. The last question which will be proposed for 
solution is. Who may be considered as eligible to this 

The proper personal qualifications for this office have 
been considered in a preceding chapter. These are 
not intended to be brought into view here. All that 
is designed is, a reference to two or three points of 


legal qualification, which are necessary to render a 
candidate eligible in the view of the ecclesiastical 

And first, no one can be elected an elder in any 
church, who is not a member in full communion in 
the church of which he is to be chosen an officer. The 
extreme impropriety of choosing men to represent the 
members of the church, and to sit in judgment on the 
standing, deportment, and church membership of others 
who were not themselves in full communion with 
the body of Christ, is so glaring as to need no 

But the eligible candidate for this choice must be a 
male member. Some indeed have -seriously doubted 
whether there were not in the apostolic church, female 
elders, or elderesses; and also whether there ought 
not to be a similar class of elders in every church at 
the present day. A great majority, however, who have 
treated of this subject, believe, that the female officers 
apparently referred to in Titus ii. 3, and a few other 
passages in the New Testament, were intended to be 
merely a temporary appointment, arising out of that 
state of seclusion in which females lived, and do still 
live in the eastern world, and not at all necessary in 
those countries where females may be approached and 
instructed without the intervention of individuals of 
their own sex. The Presbyterian Church has 
judged and acted in conformity with this view of the 

It has been queried, whether a person who is an 
acting ruling elder in one church, may be chosen to 
the same office in another, and thus be an acting mem- 
ber of two church sessions at the same time ? This 
question ought undoubtedly to be answered in the 
negative. An elder can no more be a member of two 

* The Moravians, or Uuited Brethren, and the society of 
Friends or Quakers, are the only ecclesiastical bodies in Pro- 
testant Christendom, so far as is now recollected, in whose 
.system of church order female elders actually have a place. 



different sessions, and responsible of course to both at 
the same time, than a private Christian can be enrolled 
as a member in two different churches at the same 
time, and equally amenable to both ; or than a minis- 
ter of the gospel can be a member of two Presbyteries 
at the same time, and liable to be called to an account 
by both simultaneously, and to have entirely inconsis- 
tent requisitions made by each. An elder in one 
church, then, is not eligible to the eldership in another, 
unless on the principle of his taking a dismission from 
the former, for the purpose of forming a regular and 
official relation to the latter. 



By ordination is meant that solemn rite or act by 
which a candidate for any office in the Church of 
Christ is authoritatively designated to that office, by 
those who are clothed with power for the purpose. 

It cannot require formal argument to prove that this 
rite or something analagous and equivalent to it, is in- 
dispensable in conducting all regular ecclesiastical 
government. If certain officers have been appointed 
in the Church by Jesus Christ, her King and Head ; 
if certain qualifications have been declared by Him 
indispensable to fit men for serving the church in these 
offices, without which they ought not to be permitted 
to occupy them, and if an extraordinary and immedi- 
ate designation to office by Jesus Christ himself be not 
now to be expected in any case — if these things be so, 
it inevitably follows that some person or persons must 
have power committed to them by the Head of the 
Church, to examine or try candidates for these offices; 
to judge of their qualifications, and if approved, to 
invest them with office. The idea that, with such 
directions as the New Testament contains on this 
subject, men should be left at liberty to take these offices 
upon themselves by their own act, and at their own 


pleasure, is full of absurdity; and if realized, would 
undoubtedly lead to endless disorder and mischief. 
Only suppose the secular offices of a nation to be thus 
assumed by men at will ; and by none more readily 
than the vain, the ignorant, the self-sufficient, and the 
ambitious, as would inevitably be the case, if such 
were the path of access to office, and there would be 
an end of all order. But if it be neither safe nor per- 
mitted for men to intrude into official stations uncalled, 
and if an immediate investiture by the Master himself 
be out of the question, we are driven to the conclu- 
sion that all regular and lawful introduction to office 
must be through the medium of human ordainers, 
acting in the name of Christ, and governing themselves 
by his declared will. 

Accordingly, while the Saviour himself in the days 
of his flesh, immediately invested with office the twelve 
apostles, and all others whom he personally called and 
sent forth, no sooner had He ascended to heaven, than 
the practice of introducing to office by the instrumen- 
tality of men began, and so far as we are informed, 
was uniformly continued. Then the ministers of 
Christ began to act upon the principle afterwards so 
explicitly communicated to Timothy, and enjoined 
upon him : " That which thou hast heard of me 
among many witnesses, the same commit thou to 
faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." 
Here we are plainly taught that men are not to seize 
upon the sacred office themselves. It is to be " com- 
mitted to them," and that not by every one, but by 
those only who have regularly "received" it them- 
selves. We find, too, that the method of ordination 
which had been in use in the Jewish Synagogue, and 
to which all the first Christians had been accustomed, 
was transferred to the church, and became a stated part 
of ecclesiastical order. Paul and Barnabas were set 
apart to a particular service, by a plurality of ecclesi- 
astical men, with prayer, imposition of hands, and fast- 
ing. When they, in their turn, went forth to execute 


the work to which they had been called, we find them, 
wherever they went, " ordaining elders,'' and commit- 
ting to them the care of the church. Timothy was in- 
vested with office " by the laying on of the hands of 
the presbytery." And even the deacons were called 
to their office in the same manner. It was referred 
to the people to " look out " and elect the candidates; 
but having done so, the}^ brought them to the apostles, 
who " laid their hands upon them," and conferred on 
them the important office to which they were appoin- 

It is no part of the belief of the Presbyterians that 
ordination imparts any direct influence, either physical 
or moral, to whom who receives it. They have no 
idea that in this act, by a kind of opus operatum, ac- 
cording to the Romanists, an " indelible character" is 
communicated. They do not suppose that any hal- 
lowed energy proceeds from the hands of the ordain- 
ers to him on whose head they lay them in the act of 
imposition. But they regard it simply as that official 
act by which a man is pronounced, declared, and mani- 
fested to be actually put in possession of the office to 
which he has been chosen. It is, in one word, the 
actual induction into office of one elected to fill it. 
The case is precisely analogous to that of civil rulers. 
The man who is appointed to the office of judge on a 
secular bench, has no real addition made, either to his 
intellect, his learning, or his moral excellence, by 
taking the oath of office, and complying with those 
formalities which actually introduce him to his official 
station. And yet so important are these formalities, 
that his power lawfully to act as judge absolutely de- 
pends upon them. Before they take place, he is not 
really in office ; and after they take place, he is clothed 
with that plenary power which qualifies him for the 
regular discharge of every official duty. And so of 
every other civil officer in the land. Thus it is in the 
church. Ordination is the essence of a lawful exter- 
nal call to ecclesiastical office. It is that act, before 


which, the ecclesiastical officer is not prepared, regu- 
larly, to discharge a single function appropriated to the 
station to which he is elected ; but after which, he is 
prepared for their regular and valid performance. 

That ruling elders, besides being regularly chosen 
to office, should be ordained, — that is publicly and 
solemnly designated and introduced to office by appro- 
priate formalities — our ecclesiastical constitution re- 
quires and prescribes a form for the purpose, concern- 
ing which I shall only say, that as far as it goes, it is 
well devised, impressive and excellent. I say, as far 
as it goes; — for it has been for many years my settled 
conviction that the ordination service in question in 
not making the imposition of hands a stated consti- 
tuent part of it, is chargeable with an omission which, 
though not essential, and therefore not a matter for 
which it is proper to interrupt the peace of the church, 
yet appears to me incapable of a satisfactory defence, 
and which it is my earnest hope may not much longer 
continue to be, as I know it is with many, matter of 
serious lamentation. 

The " imposition of hands," as a constituent part of 
ordination, is an old and impressive rite. It was, noto- 
riously, a familiar mode of designation to office, through 
the whole of the Old Testament economy. It is, if I 
mistake not, universally acknowledged to have been 
employed in ordaining all the elders of the Jewish 
synagogue. We find it is used in every ordination 
without exception, the particulars of which are detailed 
in the New Testament history. And even in setting 
apart the deacons, nothing can be more explicit than 
the statement, that it was done with the " imposition 
of hands " So far, then, as we are bound to reverence 
and follow ancient, primitive, and uniform usage, I 
know of no solid reason why it should be omitted in 
any case. 

Some, indeed, have attempted to defend the omission 
of this rite, by alleging that the imposition of hands, 
in the days of the apostles, was connected with the 


supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were then 
common ; and that with those special gifts, it ought to 
have ceased. In support of this allegation, they com- 
monly adduced such passages as those recorded in Acts 
viii. 17, 18; xix. 6; Heb. vi. 2, &c. This argument, 
however, if it have any force, ought to banish the im- 
position of hands from all ordinations, but can never 
justify the omission of it in ordaining ruHng elders and 
deacons, while it is retained in the ordination of those 
who " labour in the word and doctrine." But the 
validity of the whole argument, it is believed, may be 
set aside without difficulty. 

We read in the New Testament of four cases or 
kinds of " laying on of hands." The first by Christ 
himself, to express an authoritative benediction; (Matt. 
xix. 15; Mark x. 16;) the second, in the healing of 
diseases; (Mark xvi. 18; Acts xxviii. 8:) the third, in 
conferring extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; (Acts viii. 
17, xix. 6;) and the fourth, in setting apart persons 
to sacred office ; (Acts vi. 6, xiii. 3; 1 Tim. iv. 14.) 
The venerable Dr. Owen, in his commentary on Heb. 
vi. 2, expresses the opinion, that the " laying on of 
hands," mentioned in that passage, is to be considered 
as belonging to the third kind or class of cases, and, 
of course, as referring to the extraordinary gifts of the 
Holy Spirit. Others have supposed, that it rather be- 
longs to the fourth example here enumerated, and 
therefore applies to the ordination of ministers. On 
this point I decide nothing. But my reasons for sup- 
posing that the imposition of hands in the ordination 
of church officers, had no reference to the imparting 
of supernatural gifts, and consequently ought not to 
be deemed an extraordinary and temporary rite, are 
such as these — 1. This rite has been employed in all 
ages of the church in setting apart persons to ecclesi- 
astical office ; 2. It is one of the most natural and 
significant modes of designating a person who is in- 
tended to be consecrated or devoted to a particular ser- 
vice ; 3. It was manifestly employed in a number of 


cases which occur in the sacred history, where no spe- 
cial gifts were intended to be conveyed ; and, therefore, 
though sometimes connected with those gifts, yet we 
are sure it was not in all cases thus connected;* 4. 
When hands w^ere laid on Paul and Barnabas at 
Antioch, it was not that they might receive these gifts, 
for they were possessed of them prior to this solemnity; 
5. In this case too, it is remarkable that they seem to 
have been ordinary pastors and teachers who laid 
their hands upon one, at least, of extraordinary gifts 
and character ; 6. And finally, in 1 Tim. v. 22, the 
whole rite of ordination seems to be comprehended in 
this act — " Lay hands suddenly on no man," &c. 
And if we consider the act of laying hands on the head 
of the candidate for sacred office, as intended at once 
solemnly to designate his person, to express an official 
benediction, and to indicate his entire consecration to 
the service of God, we could scarcely conceive of an 
act more simple, and yet more appropriate and full of 
meaning. And although those who lay on hands in 
this transaction altogether disclaim, as was before stated, 
the power of conveying the Holy Ghost to the indivi- 
dual ordained, yet as an emblem of what he needs, 
and ought unceasingly to seek, and of what his brethren 
desire and pray for on his behalf, it is surely in a high 
degree expressive, and by no means open to the charge 
of either presumption or superstition. I would say, 

* " Imposition of hands was a Jewish ceremony, introduced 
not by any divine authority, but by custom : it being the prac- 
tice among- those people, whenever they prayed to God for 
any person to lay their hands upon his head. Our Saviour 
observed the same custom, both when he conferred his blessings 
on children, and when he healed the sick, adding prayers to 
the ceremony. The apostles likewise laid hands on those 
upon whom they bestowed the Holy Ghost. The priests ob- 
served the same custom when any one was received into their 
body. And the apostles themselves underwent the imposition 
of hands afresh, when they entered upon any new design. In 
the ancient church imposition of hands was even practised on 
persons when they were married, which custom the Abyssinians 
still observe." Burder's Oriental Customs, ii. 35. 


therefore, concerning this part of the solemnity of 
ordination, in the language of the venerable Calvin, — 
" Although there is no express precept for the imposition 
of hands, yet since we find it to have been constantly 
used by the apostles, such a punctual observance of it 
by them ought to have the force of a precept with us. 
And certainly this ceremony is highly useful both to 
recommend to the people the dignity of the ministry, 
and to admonish the person ordained, that he is no 
longer his own master, but devoted to the service of God 
and the church. Besides, it will not be an unmeaning 
sign, if it be restored to its true origin. For if the Spirit 
of God institute nothing in the church in vain, we 
shall perceive that this ceremony which proceeded from 
Him, is not without its use, provided it be not perverted 
by a superstitious abuse."* 

But if this rite be so reasonable, so scriptural, so 
expressive, and so generally adopted by almost all 
Christian denominations, in ordaining those elders who 
" labour in the word and doctrine ;" how comes it to 
pass that it should be so generally, not to say univer- 
sally omitted in the ordination of ruling elders ? I have 
long deplored this omission,-|- and cannot help believ- 
ing that the restoration of so appropriate and impres- 
sive a part of the ordaining service, would in all proba- 
bility be attended with beneficial effects. 

It is not easy to ascertain the origin of the omission 

* Institutiones, Lib. iv. Cap. iii. 16. 

f More than twenty years ago, the author of this volume, 
under the deep and unwavering- conviction that he had scrip- 
tural authority to sustain him, when called upon to ordain 
elders and deacons in a vacant church, added to the usual 
solemnity on such occasions, the act of "laying on hands" in 
the ordaining prayer. Finding, however, that many of his 
brethren considered it as an innovation, and were by no means 
prepared to introduce the practice ; believing that diversity of 
practice in relation to this matter would be very undesirable ; 
and persuaded, moreover, tnat the act in question ought not 
to be deemed an essential in any ordinati*" j, — he resolved not to 
repeat it until it could be usc>d without offence, and with better 
prospects of edification to the church. 



in question. The apostolic office of ruling elder was 
preserved as we have seen by the witnesses of the truth 
during the dark ages. Whether the pious Waldenses 
and Bohemian Brethren were in the habit of setting 
apart this class of officers with the imposition of hands, 
cannot now, so far as I know, be determined. The 
reformers received the office under consideration from 
those pious Waldenses, and were well aware as their 
writings evince, that all ordinations in the Synagogue 
and in the primitive church, had been accompanied 
with the laying on of hands. Still however, while they 
with one accord retained this rite in the ordination of 
teaching elders, they seem quite as unanimously to 
have discarded it in the ordination of ruling elders.* 
Of the cause of this their writings give us no intimation, 
nor has it ever been my lot to hear from any quarter, a 
single reason for the omission which was in the least 
degree satisfactory. To be told that the omission has 
" long been established," that while all the Protestant 
Churches in the world, except that of England receive 
this class of officers in one form or another, they are 
" no where ordained by the imposition of hands," that 
this is " the custom of the church," that to depart from 
it would be "to innovate" and "give offence," &c. that 
this rite "may be omitted without injury, not being an 
essential part of ordination," &c. is surely little adapted 
to satisfy an inquiring mind, desirous of receiving as 
well as of being able to give a reason for every 

But although, as has been already said, no reason is 

* Ik is worthy of remark that our Independent brethren, at 
early periods of their history, adhered more closely to the 
scriptural method of ordaining- ruling elders and deacons than 
even Presbyterians. See the Cambridj^e Platform, chapters 
vii. and ix. See also a Confession of Faith adopted by some 
Anti-paedobaptists, (to the amount of 100 congregations) in 
England and Wales in 1689 ; and ratified and adopted by a 
Baptist Association, met at Philadelphia in 1742, chapter 27. 
Also a " Short Treatise on Church Discipline," appended to^- 
it by the latter, chapters 3, 4. 


formally assigned, or even hinted, in the writings of 
the reformers, for laying aside the imposition of hands 
in the ordination of ruling elders ; it is not, perhaps, 
difficult to conjecture how it happened. One mistake 
I suspect naturally led to another. They began by 
considering the office as a temporary one, or rather 
allowing those who bore it, if they saw fit, to decline 
sustaining it for more than a single year. There was 
a new election of these elders annually. The same 
individuals indeed, if they were acceptable to the peo- 
ple, and were willing to continue to serve the church, 
might be re-elected for a series of years, or, if they 
consented, even for life. But this seldom occurred. 
There was, for the most part, annually a considerable 
change in the individuals, and annually a new ordina- 
tion. The tenure of the office being thus temporary, 
and in many cases but for a single year, no wonder 
that there should seem to the discerning and pious men 
who took the lead in organizing the reformed churches, 
some incongruity between this annual renewal of the 
official investiture and obligation, and setting apart men 
to the office in question, each time with the very same 
formalities which attended the ordination of ministers 
of the gospel, whose tenure of office was for life. This 
incongruity, it is probable, struck them with so much 
force, that they could not reconcile it with their feelings 
to set apart to their office these temporary incumbents 
with the same rites and solemnity which they employed 
in ordaining ministers of the word and sacraments.* 
Nor is it matter of wonder that such feelings should 
have had an influence on their minds. Those who 
take such a view of the tenure of the office in question 

* This representation is not wholly gratuitous. It appears 
from the Compendium Theologise Christianje of Marck, and 
from the opinion of Frederick Spanheim, quoted with approba- 
tion by De Moor, the Commentator on Marck, that all three of 
these divines of the reformed church had no other objec- 
tion to the laying- on of hands in the ordination of ruling 
elders, than that which I have suggested. De Moori, Com. 
Perpet. vol. vi. p. 330. 


as they did, will never be very cordial or decisive either 
in addressing those who bear it, or in setting them 
apart, as men consecrated for life to the service of the 
church. But that in the Church of Scotland,* and in 
the Presbyterian church in this country, where it is 
believed correct views of the office of ruling elder as 
perpetual are universally received, the scriptural mode 
of setting apart to this office should have been so long 
and so generally disused, is a fact for which it is not 
easy to assign a satisfactory reason. 

We are now prepared to take a brief survey of the 
arguments by which the propriety of ordaining elders 
by the imposition of hands may be maintained. They 
are such as the following : 

1. We find throughout the whole Jewish history, that 
solemnly laying the hands on the head of a person who 
was intented to be particularly honoured, blessed, or 
devoted to sacred functions was a rite of frequent, not 
to say constant use ; and even in cases in which the 
conveyance of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, 
could not possibly have been designed. 

2. The inspired apostles, in organizing the New 
Testament Church, took as their model the synagogue 
system of government, to which the first Christians had 
been all their lives accustomed. 

3. It is certain that in every Jewish synagogue there 
was a bench of ruling elders ; and it is just as certain 
that these elders were always ordained by the impo- 
sition of hands. 

4. There is not a single instance of an ordination to 
any ecclesiastical office whatever, of which we have any 
account in the New Testament, in which the ceremony 

* At what period in the History of the Church of Scotland 
it was that the annual election of elders was laid aside, and the 
ofl&ce made permanent, it has not fallen in the author's way to 
obtain information. He is disposed to believe, however, that 
the change took place either late in the sixteenth, or early in 
the seventeenth century. 


of the laying on of hands does not appear to have 
been used. 

5. The first deacons, though not intrusted with an 
office so purely spiritual or so arduous as that of rul- 
ing elder, were yet, as all acknowledge, set apart to 
the diaconate by the imposition of hands. Of course 
those who bear a superior office ought not to be intro- 
duced to it with less solemnity. 

6. To imagine that there is any peculiar meaning or 
mystical influence in the laying on of hands, which is 
above the dignity of the ruling elder's office, involves 
at once a superstitious estimate of a simple emblemati- 
cal act, and an unworthy degradation of an important 
order in the Christian family. 

Accordingly, it is observable that almost all classes 
of writers whose judgment in reference to this matter is 
worthy of particular notice, freely concede the propriety 
of setting apart both ruling elders and deacons in the 
manner for which I contend, and scarcely offer any 
other reason for omitting it, than that such has been 
" long the custom" of the reformed churches, and that 
the ceremony is not " essential" to a valid ordination. 
The following specimen of the manner in which the 
subject is treated by such writers, will be quite sufficient 
to establish my position. 

The very learned authors of the "Theses Ley denses," 
who were zealous Presbyterians, in speaking of the 
biennial election of ruling elders and deacons in the 
Church of Holland, acknowledge that in the apostolic 
church those offices were both perpetual, and concede 
that the different plan adopted among themselves was 
an imperfection,* plainly intimating that their mode 
of ordaining these officers had grown out of this im- 

The foreign Protestants who established themselves 
in London, during the reign of Edward the sixth, 
not only had ruling elders and deacons in all their 

* Synopsis Purioris Theologicae, Disput. 42. p. 62 L 


churches, but also uniformly ordained them by the 
imposition of hands, as we have seen in the preceding 

The Rev. John Anderson, of Scotland, the able 
and zealous defender of Presbyterianism against Rhind, 
who lived a little more than a century ago, speaking of 
the ordination of ruling elders by the imposition of 
hands, has the following passage: — " Nobody doubts it 
is very lawful, and for my own part, I heartih'^ wish it 
were practised ; but I deny that it is absolutely neces- 
sary, there being no precept enjoining it.''* 

The Rev. Archibald Hall, also of Great Britain, 
and a thorough-going advocate for presbyterian order, 
speaks on the same subject in the following terms: 
" The call of ruling elders, like the call of the elders 
who ' labour in the word and doctrine,' consists in 
two things, viz. election and ordination. Their elec- 
tion should be popular, and their ordination judicial, 
and performed with laying on of hands." And, in a 
subsequent page, he expresses an opinion that deacons 
ought to be ordained in the same manner. f 

The Rev. John Brown of Haddington, one of the 
most decisive, consistent, and devoted presbyterians 
that ever lived, after giving an account of the nature 
and warrant of the office of ruling elders, observes — 
" Their ordination ought to be transacted in much the 
same manner as that of teaching elders or pastors."^ 

The learned and pious Dr. Cotton Mather delivers 
the following opinion on the subject before us. " The 
imposition of hands in the ordination of a church officer, 
is a rite not only lawful to be retained, but it seems by 
a divine institution directed and required; so that, al- 
though the call of a person to church office may not 
become null and void where that rite may have been 

* Defence, &c. Chap. ii. Sect. vi. p. 179. 
f Scriptural View of the Gospel Church, chapters xii. and xv. 
p. 67, 102. 
J Compendious View, Book vii. chap. ii. p. 610. 


omitted (as it is in the seniors and deacons in most of 
the reformed churches), yet we cannot approve the 
omission of it. A ceremonial defect may be blame- 

Our excellent and eloquent countryman, the Rev, 
President Dwight, gives an opinion concerning the 
ordination of deacons, which is decisive of his opinion 
concerning that of ruling elders, in favour of which 
latter class of officers he very explicitly, as we have 
before seen, declares his judgment. He speaks thus : — 
" Deacons are to be ordained by the imposition of 
hands, and by prayer." 

" When the brethren had set these men before the 
apostles," St. Luke informs us, " they prayed, and 
laid their hands upon them." 

" This, also, is an authoritative example of the man- 
ner in which deacons are to be introduced into every 
church. It is the example of inspired men; and was, 
therefore, the pleasure of the Spirit of God. There is 
no hint in the New Testament, nor even in ecclesias- 
tical history, that they were ever introduced in any 
other manner. At the same time, there is no precept 
revoking or altering the authority or influence of this 
example. It stands, therefore, in full force, and re- 
quires that all persons chosen by the church to this 
office, should be consecrated to the duties of it in the 
same manner." 

" It is to be observed, further, that if any such alte- 
ration had existed in periods subsequent to the apos- 
tolic age, it would have been totally destitute of any 
authority to us. This mode of consecration has, in 
fact, been disused in New England to a considerable 
extent. For this, however, there seems to have been 
no reason of any value. So far as I have been able to 
gain information on the subject, the disuse was origi- 
nated at first, and has been gradually extended, by mere 

Magnalia, vol. ii. p. 218. 


inattention: nor is it capable, so far as I know, of any 

These are a few of the authorities which might be 
quoted in favour of the same general position. In fact, 
I have met with no Presbyterian or Independent vrriter 
who believed in the propriety of the imposition of 
hands in any case of ordination, who did not, either 
explicitly or virtually, grant that there was no reason 
for withholding this ceremony in the case of ruling 
elders, but the custom of the church, or some similar 

On the supposition, then, that the imposition of 
hands oUght always to be employed in the ordination 
of ruling elders, the question naturally arises, Whose 
hands ought to be laid on in such ordinations? And 
here, if we attend to the simplest principles of all 
government, it would seem that we could scarcely be 
at a loss for a satisfactory answer. 

It seems to be a fundamental principle in every de- 
partment, both of the natural and moral world, that 
every thing must be considered as capable of begetting 
its like. If this be so, does it not follow as a plain 
dictate of common sense, that, in ordaining ruling 
elders, the members of the session already in office 
should lay on hands with the pastor, in setting apart an 
additional number to the same office? In other words, 
if there be such a body already in existence in the 
church, the hands of the parochial presbytery ought to 
be laid on in adding to its own number, and the " right 
hand of fellowship" given, at the close of the service, 
by each member of the session to each of his newly - 
ordained brethren. This appears to me equally agree- 
able to reason and scripture, and highly adapted to 
edification. And if there be no eldership already in 
the church in which the ordination takes place — then 
the presbytery, upon proper application being made to 
them, ought to appoint at least one minister and two 

* Theolog-y Explained and Defended, vol. iv. p. 291. 


or more ruling elders to attend, at the time and place 
most convenient, to perform the ordination. How 
much more impressive and acceptable would be such a 
scene, than the cold and naked manner in which this 
service is too often performed ! 

A question may here arise in the minds of some, 
whether those elders who, when ordained, had no hands 
laid on them, may, without impropriety, join in the im- 
position of hands on the heads of their younger brethren 
who may be ordained in this manner? To this ques- 
tion, beyond all doubt, we may confidently return an 
affirmative answer. They may unite in the imposition 
of hands without the least scruple, and with the utmost 
propriety. All reasonable men grant that the rite in 
question, though rational and scriptural, is not essen- 
tial to a valid ordination. Our venerable fathers of 
the Scotch Reformation did not deem the imposition 
of hands necessary even in the ordination of ministers 
of the gospel, and, therefore, in their First Book of 
Discipline did not prescribe it. Elders, therefore, who 
have been regularly set apart to their office, agreeably 
to the formula prescribed in the presbyterian church, 
have received an ordination completely valid. They 
are fully invested with the office, and with all the powers 
and privileges which it includes. It is contrary to the 
whole genius of the gospel to make a mere ceremonial 
defect fatal to the substance of an otherwise regular 
investiture. If elders who have been thus ordained be 
deemed competent to any part of their official work, 
they are competent to every part, and, of course, to 
partake in the solemnity which I am here endeavouring 
to recommend. 

If the foregoing principles be correct, then ruling 
elders ought also to lay on hands with the pastor in the 
ordination of deacons — their office as rulers vesting 
them with full power for this act, and rendering it 
strictly proper. But inasmuch as deacons make no 
part of the parochial presbytery, and are not vested 


with any portion of the function of spiritual govern- 
ment, it does not seem proper that they should lay on 
hands in any case of ordination. In that of ruling 
elders, it would be manifestly incongruous, since their 
office is altogether unlike. But even in the ordination 
of deacons, it would be inconsistent with regular order. 
Ordination is an act not only official, but also authori- 
tative. It is an act of government; but to no partici- 
pation in this are deacons appointed. This office, as 
we have seen, is highly important, and requires much 
wisdom, piety, prudence, and diligence; but their 
sphere of duty is entirely different from that of those 
who are " set over the flock in the Lord," and who are 
appointed to " watch for souls as they that must give 

If, after this whole discussion, any should be disposed 
to ask what additional advantage may be expected to 
flow from ordaining our elders by the imposition of 
hands, and with similar external solemnities, to those 
which are employed in setting apart ministers of the 
gospel, — I answer — it will be a return to scriptural 
example and primitive usage, which is always right, 
and will, we have reason to hope, by the grace of God, 
be connected with a blessing. It will be doing war- 
ranted and appropriate honour to a class of officers too 
long deprived of their due estimation and author! t3\ 
When the people see those whom they have elected to 
this office devoutly kneeling before the Lord, and the 
hands of the parochial presbytery laid on their heads, 
with fervent prayer, and with a solemn charge and 
benediction, they will naturally attach to the office itself 
more importance, and to those who bear it more reve- 
rence. Nay, perhaps it is not unreasonable to believe 
that such solemnities may be made the means of salutary 
impressions on the minds even of their immediate sub- 
jects. If the writer of these lines does not greatly 
mistake, he has known the solemnities attending the 
ordination of pastors productive of deep and lasting 


impressions, both on the ordained and the spectators. 
But he has no recollection of ever witnessing any such 
result from our comparatively cold and lifeless mode 
of setting apart the official rulers in Christ's house. 
" This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamen- 





As it is a fundamental principle of the presbyterian 
church that the office of ruling elder is permanent — 
that when a man is once set apart to it, he is always an 
elder while he lives, unless deposed by regular consti- 
tutional process — a variety of questions naturally re- 
sulting from this principle claim our notice. Among 
these, some of the more obvious and important will be 
briefly considered in the present chapter. 

A ruling elder, after being regularly and solemnly 
set apart to this office, with, perhaps, as full an inten- 
tion of faithfully performing its duties to his life's end 
as ever man had, may lose his health, and thus become 
physically and permanently unable to perform those 
duties. Or he may become, unavoidably, so situated 
with regard to his temporal business as to render the 
regular fulfilment of his duties altogether impracticable. 
In this case, the individual supposed may resign his 
place in the session; in other words, he may cease to 
be an acting overseer, or inspector and ruler of that 
church. He will, of course, still retain his place and 


privileges as a regular member of the church; but he 
will no longer take any part in its spiritual government. 
This is so reasonable a provision that it can scarcely 
be thought to require either illustration or defence. 
We all know that a teaching elder, or minister of the 
word and sacraments, after being for a time a pastor, 
may, if the state of his health or any other circumstance 
should imperiously demand it, resign his pastoral charge, 
and retire, as long as the cause of his resignation con- 
tinues to operate, to private life. He who does this, 
it is well known, though he ceases to be a pastor, still 
continues to be a minister, fully invested with the 
powers of an " ambassador of Christ." He may still, 
if he think proper, reside within the bounds of the con- 
gregation which he formerly served; and he may occa- 
sionally, if mutually convenient and agreeable, minister 
to them in sacred things. But he is no longer their 
minister, and he may never think proper again to take 
a pastoral charge. 

All these principles apply to the ruling elder. If he 
verily think that he cannotany longer perform the duties 
of his office in a manner acceptable either to the Head 
of the Church or to his people, he may withdraw from 
active service. When he does this, however, he does 
not lay down his office, — he does not cease to be an 
elder: he only ceases to be an acting elder. If his 
health should ever be restored, or his temporal circum- 
stances undergo a favourable alteration, he may resume 
the duties of his office, and again take his place in the 
session from which he withdrew, or some other, with- 
out a new ordination. When an elder thus wishes to 
resign his station, he is to give official notice of his de- 
sire to the session — they are to declare, if they think 
proper, their acceptance of his resignation — the whole 
transaction is to be distinctly recorded in the sessional 
book — and report made to the presbytery that the 
individual in question has ceased to be an acting mem- 
ber of that session. 


Again; an elder may become wholly incapable of 
serving the church with which he is connected, by the 
entire loss of his popularity. He may not have become 
either heterodox in his theological opinions, or so irre- 
gular in any part of his practice, as to render himself 
liable to process or deposition from office, and yet he 
may, by indiscretions or by undignified conduct, so lose 
the respect and confidence of the people — or, in a 
moment of prejudice or passion, the popular feeling, 
without any just ground of blame on his part, may be 
so strong against him, that he may be no longer able 
to serve the church, either acceptably or to edification, 
as a spiritual ruler. In either of these cases, he ought 
voluntarily to resign his place in the session, as stated in 
the preceding paragraph; and the session, after taking 
a vote of acceptance on the resignation, ought distinctly 
to record the same in the minutes of their proceedings, 
and make regular report of it for the information of 
the presbytery. In all this there will be recognized an 
almost exact similarity to the usual course of proceed- 
ing when a pastor is sensible that he has become unpo- 
pular, and wishes to resign his charge. 

It may be, however, that the elder whose popularity 
is thus prostrated may not be sensible of his real situa- 
tion, may be unwilling to believe that he is not popular, 
and may therefore refuse, even when requested, to 
resign his station. In this case, the course prescribed 
in our form of government is, that the session make 
due report of the whole matter to the presbytery, giving 
due notice to the elder in question of the time and 
place at which it is intended to make the report; and 
that the presbytery decide, after due inquiry and deli- 
beration, whether he ought to resign or continue his 
connexion with the session. On the one hand, no 
church ought to be burdened by the incumbency of an 
unpopular and obstinate elder, who, instead of edifying, 
is injuring it; and, on the other hand, no innocent and 
really exemplary elder ought to be. abandoned to the 


fury of popular prejudice, and permitted to be trampled 
under feet, when, perhaps, he ought to be sustained 
and honoured for his fidelity. 

Further — ruling elders, like other church members, 
may find it their duty to remove their residence from 
the bounds of the church which called them to office to 
another. Such cases not unfrequently arise. The 
question is, when they do occur, how is the official 
standing of such a removing elder to be disposed of? 
He, of course, when he goes, ought to take with him a 
regular certificate of good standing as a private Chris- 
tian, and a dismission and recommendation to the 
church to which he removes. The certificate ought 
also to bear an attestation of his regular standing as an 
elder, and of his official as well as personal dismission 
from his former church. With this certificate he will 
repair to the church to which he is recommended, and 
will, of course, be received as a private member in good 
standing. If the existing eldership and members of the 
church to which he removes think it for their edifica- 
tion that he be introduced into their session, he may 
be elected in the manner " most approved and in use 
in that congregation" — that is, either by a nomination 
by the session, or by a popular vote of the church mem- 
bers, and, if thus elected, introduced to an official rela- 
tion to that people — not by a new ordination, which 
ought never to be repeated, but by being regularly 
installed as their elder. This is effected by the can- 
didate appearing in the face of the congregation as one 
about to be ordained, answering in the affirmative the 
fourth question directed to be put to candidates for 
the eldership at their ordination — the members of the 
congregation publicly professing to receive him as their 
spiritual ruler, agreeably to the last question in the 
same formula, declaring him one of the ruling elders 
of that church, and closing with prayer for the divine 
blessing on the transaction. 

It may be, however, that when an individual who has 
served one congregation as an elder removes into the 


bounds of another, that other may not, on the whole, 
think best to elect him as one of their elders. They 
may already have as many as they think there ought 
to be in one church. Or his character, though unex- 
ceptionably good, may not be such as to promise great 
benefit by taking him into their parochial presbytery. 
In this case, they are under no obligation to elect him 
one of their elders. And if they do not think best to 
employ him in his character, he may live among them 
as a private member of the church. At this he ought 
to take no offence. It would be a hard case, indeed, 
if churches were not left at liberty to act agreeably to 
their own views of propriety and duty in such cases. 
If a preaching elder or pastor be liberated from his 
pastoral charge, and remove his residence within the 
bounds of another church, however excellent his cha- 
racter, that church is not bound to employ him. To 
suppose it bound, would indeed be ecclesiastical slavery. 
A preacher inferior to him in every respect might be 
preferred. Every church must be left to its own un- 
biassed choice. Still the elder, as well as the minister, 
in the case supposed, though in retirement and with- 
out official employment, retains his office, and is capable 
of being employed in that office whenever the judica- 
tories of the church think proper to avail themselves of 
his services. 

When ruling elders become chargeable with heresy 
or immorality, and, of course, liable to the discipline 
of the church, they are amenable to the bar of the 
church session. By that body they are to be arraigned 
and tried. Process against them is to be conducted 
according to the same general rules which regulate the 
trial of private members of the church, excepting that 
as their character is in some respects more important 
and their example more influential than the character 
and example of those who bear no office in the church, 
so there ought to be particular caution, tenderness, and 
care in receiving accusations and in commencing pro- 
cess against them. " Against an elder," says the inspired 


Paul, " receive not an accusation but before two or 
three witnesses." If, therefore, any person observe or 
hear of any thing in a ruling elder which he considers 
as rendering him justly liable to censure, he ought by 
no means immediately to spread it abroad, but to com- 
municate what he has observed or heard to the pastor 
of the church, and take his advice as to the proper 
course to be pureued; and if the pastor cannot be seen 
and consulted, then similar consultation and advice 
should be had with one, at least, of the brother elders 
of the supposed delinquent: and all this before any 
hint respecting the alleged delinquency is lisped to any 
other human being. 

As the church session is the tribunal to which the 
ruling elder is, at least in the first instance, always 
amenable, so it is generally proper that he should be 
tried by that judicatory. Yet, where there is any thing 
peculiar or delicate in the case of process against an 
elder, a presbytery should be consulted. 

There are cases, however, so very peculiar as to pre- 
clude the possibility of an impartial trial, and some- 
times, indeed, of any trial at all before the session. A 
few such cases may be specified. 

An instance occurred a few years since, in which 
there were only two elders in a certain church session, 
and the moral conduct of both these elders became 
impeached. It was, of course, impossible to try them 
in the usual manner. 

In another case, the session was composed of two 
elders beside the pastor. These elders were own 
brothers. One of them was charged with immoral 
conduct, and it was judged altogether improper that 
any attempt should be made to try the delinquent in 
that session. 

In a third class of cases, when process against mem- 
bers of church session had been commenced, it was 
found that so many of the brother elders of the delin- 
quents were cited as witnesses, that there was no pros- 



pect of a dispassionate and impartial trial by the re- 

In all these cases, it was wisely judged proper to 
apply immediately to the presbytery, to take the seve- 
ral causes in hand, and to commence and issue processc 

It has been sometimes proposed, in exigencies simi- 
lar to those which have been stated, without applying 
to the presbytery, to call in the aid of the eldership of 
a neighbouring church, and to submit the case to their 
decision. To this course there are two objections. 
First, the constitution of the presbyterian church 
knows of no such body. It has no where provided for 
the formation of a parochial tribunal in such a manner. 
And secondly, the adoption of this plan would be to 
set one church as a judge over a neighbouring sister 

To avoid this incongruity, it has been sometimes 
proposed to form a tribunal for the trial of delinquent 
elders, by selecting one or two of the same class of 
officers from each of several neighbouring sessions. This 
was intended as an expedient to avoid the impropriety 
of setting one church in judgment over another. But 
this expedient, besides that it is unauthorized by any 
constitutional provision, is liable to the charge of a 
selection of judges which may not always be fair and 
impartial. It is far better on every account, and espe- 
cially more in harmony with tlie nature of the case, 
and with the spirit of our general principles, to go 
immediately to the Presbytery. That body is the 
natural resort in all cases in which the church session 
is unable, in its ordinary structure and situation, to 
perform the contemplated work. 



It is not forgotten in entering on this chapter, that 
most denominations of Christians are so far prejudiced, 
and sometimes so blindly prejudiced in favour of their 
own particular government and formularies, that their 
judgment in reference to this matter, can seldom be 
regarded as impartial. The writer of this essay, though 
he does not allow himself to indulge in such prejudices, 
yet does not claim to be wholly free from them. Instead, 
therefore, of troubling the reader with his bare impres- 
sions and preferences in regard to the Presbyterian mode 
of conducting discipline, which would of course go for 
nothing; it is proposed to present such a series of 
principles and reasonings as will enable the intelligent 
inquirer to judge for himself, how far the conclusions 
of the writer are sustained by solid argument. 

I. And in the first place, the plan of discipline for 
which we plead, is founded essentially on the principle 
of representation, whicxi in a greater or less degree, 
prevades all human society. When a community of 
any extent wishes to frame laws for its own govern- 


ment, by whom is this service usually performed ? By 
the whole body of citizens wise and unwise, orderly and 
disorderly, coming together and debating on the pro- 
priety and the form of every proposed enactment? No, 
never. An attempt of this kind would soon show the 
plan to be equally foolish and impracticable. Again, 
when a court is to be formed for applying the laws 
already in force to human actions, of what materials is 
this tribunal commonly composed ? Does any one ever 
think of summoning the whole mass of the male popula- 
tion excepting the culprit, or the complainant, whose 
cause is to tried to come together, and decide on the 
case ? Who would ever expect either a tranquil or a 
wise decision from such a judicial assembly ? In both 
these cases, the good sense of men in all civilized society, 
dictates the choice of a select number of individuals 
representatives of the whole body, and supposed to pos- 
sess a competent share of knowledge, wisdom, and integ- 
rity, to form the laws of the community ; and another 
body smaller indeed but constituted upon similar 
principles, judicially to apply them when enacted. And 
so in every department of society. The representative 
system was one of the earliest that appeared in the pro- 
gress of mankind. It is recommended by its reason- 
ableness, its convenience, its wisdom, and its efficiency. 
In fact, the more deeply we look into the history and 
state of the world, the more clearly we shall see that 
large bodies of men cannot take a step without it. 

And as this system prevades all civil society, so we 
may say without fear of contradiction, that it equally 
prevades the whole economy of redemption and grace. 
Is it not reasonable then, that we should find it in the 
visible Church ? If we did not, it would indeed be a 
strange departure from a general principle of Jehovah's 

The Presbyterian plan then, of conducting the 
government of each congregation, is recommended by 
its conformity with this almost universal principle. It 
deposits the power of applying the laws which Christ 


has enacted and given to his people, not with the 
whole professing population of the church, but with a 
select body of the communicants, most distinguished 
for their piety, knowledge, judgment, and experience. 
It does not make judges indiscriminately of the young 
and old, the enlightened and the ignorant, the wise and 
the unwise. It selects the exemplary, the pious, the 
prudent, the grave, and the experienced, for this impor- 
tant work. " It sets those to judge who are most es- 
teemed in the house of God." This is the theory, and 
in most cases, we may suppose the actual practice. 
And where it is really so, who does not see that there 
is every security which the nature of the case admits, 
that the judgment will be most calm, judicious, and 
edifying, that the amount of wisdom and of piety in 
that church could pronounce ? 

The inconvenience, nay, the positive mischiefs of 
committing the judgment in the most delicate and diffi- 
cult cases of implicated Christian character, to the 
whole mass of Christian professors, have been alluded 
to in a preceding chapter. And the more closely they 
are examined, the more serious will they appear. No 
confidential precaution, no calm, retired inquiry, no 
deliberate consultation of sensitive feelings with fidelity, 
and yet with fraternal delicacy, can possibly take place 
in ordinary cases, but by the adoption of an expedient, 
which amounts to the temporary appointment of elders. 
On the contrary upon any other plan, the door is wide 
open for tale-bearing, for party heat, for the violation 
of all those nicer sensibilities, which in Christian society 
are of so much value ; and after all, for a decision with 
which perhaps no one is satisfied. It would truly, be 
passing strange, if a sober, wise, and consistent decision 
should be pronounced by such a tribunal. We are 
surely then warranted in setting it down as one of 
the manifest advantages of conducting discipline on the 
Presbyterian plan, that by the adoption of the repre- 
sentative system, it provides in all ordinary cases, for 


the purest, the wisest, and the most edifying decisions 
of which the nature of the case admits. 

11. Further, as was hinted in a preceding chapter, 
this method of conducting discipline, presents one of 
the firmest conceivable barriers against the ambition 
and encroachments of the clergy. It is not intended 
again to enlarge on the liableness of ministers of the 
gospel to feel that love of power which is natural to 
man. Very few of them it is believed in this land of 
religious liberty, have ever really aimed at ecclesiastical 
encroachment. But as laws are made for the dis- 
obedient, and as ministers are but men, so that system 
of ecclesiastical polity may be considered as the best, 
which, while it is attended with the greatest amount of 
positive advantage, is adapted most effectually to 
obviate those evils to which human nature is exposed. 

Now it is evident that the method of conducting dis- 
cipline at present under consideration, assigns to every 
pastor a council, or senate of pious, wise, prudent men, 
chosen from among the body of the communicants; and 
though not strictly lay-men, yet commonly so viewed, 
and at any rate, carrying with them the feelings of the 
mass of their brethren. He is simply the chairman of 
this body of six, eight or ten men, who are charged 
with the whole spiritual rule, and " without whose 
counsel nothing is done in the church." He can carry 
no measure but with their consent. He can neither 
admit nor exclude a single member, without their 
concurrence. If he engage in any sinister or foul plan, 
as many are fond of supposing the clergy inclined to 
attempt, he certainly cannot accomplish it either in his 
own church, or in neighbouring churches, unless he 
can prevail on these men to join with him in conspiring 
to elevate himself at their own expense. Will he be 
likely to work such a wonder as this ? At any rate, 
there seems to be the best barrier against it, that the 
nature of human society admits. 

The same general safeguard pervades all the judi- 
catories of the Presbyterian church. In all of them 


ruling elders have a place, and in all of them ex- 
cepting the General Assembly, the elders, if the theory 
of our system were carried into perfect execution, would 
be a majority. In the General Assembly alone, if com- 
pletely full, they would stand on an equality in votes 
with the pastors. And these ruling elders are not 
merely present in all these bodies. They mingle in all 
the business; are appointed on all committees, and 
have every possible opportunity of becoming acquainted 
in the most intimate manner, with all that is proposed 
or done. There can be no concealment. The pro- 
ceedings of all our judicatories excepting the church 
session, where the elders form an overwhelming 
majority, are open and public as the light of day. And 
every ruling elder has at his disposal a vote as potent, 
as that of his most eloquent and learned neighbouring 

It may be asked then, whether there is not here a 
barrier against clerical ambition and encroachment as 
fixed and firm as can well be conceived or desired? It 
is undoubtedly, a far more firm barrier than is pre- 
sented by the popular plan in use among our Indepen- 
dent brethren. For as in every church, a majority of 
the members have but little discernment, and are, of 
course, easily influenced and led ; so an artful design- 
ing pastor, if such an one should appear in a church 
thus constituted, might generally succeed in concilia- 
ting to his own person and schemes a majority of the 
votes, to the utter discomfiture ofthe more wise, pious, 
and prudent portion of the members. But upon the 
Presbyterian plan, it is precisely this best class of his 
church members who are associated with him in 
authority and counsel, who are with him ecclesiastically 
speaking, abroad and at home, in the house and by the 
way, in going out and in coming in, from whose notice 
he cannot escape, aud without whose co-operation he 
can do nothing. Truly this is the very last method 
that designing ambitious ministers would adopt to 
forward their projects ! Nothing could be conceived 


more unfriendly to corrupt schemes, than snch a band 
of official colleagues. And accordingly, as we have 
more than once seen in the foregoing chapters, the 
honest and pious old Ambrose, of the fourth century, 
expressly tells us, that it was a wish to get rid of such 
colleagues on the part of the teaching elders, that 
first led to the gradual disuse of ruling elders in the 
church, after the first three centuries. 

III. Again, as the Presbyterian plan of administering 
discipline is adapted to present one of the strongest con- 
ceivable barriers against clerical ambition, so it also 
furnishes one of the best securities for preserving 
the rights of the people. And here nothing will 
be said on the supposed congeniality between the 
Presbyterian form of church government, and the 
republican representative systems under which we live, 
and the alleged tendency of the former to prepare men 
for understanding, prizing, and maintaining the latter 
— I say, on these allegations I shall not dwell — not 
because I do not consider both as perfectly well founded, 
but because the discussion might be deemed by some 
readers invidious, and because it forms no necessary 
part of my argument. Independently of these consi- 
derations, it may be confidently maintained that the 
presbyterian plan of administering discipline furnishes 
far better security for preserving unimpaired the rights 
of private Christians than any plan with which we are 
acquainted. It is not forgotten that this assertion will 
appear a paradox to many, but it rests, nevertheless, on 
the most solid grounds. 

There is no oppression more heavy, no tyranny more 
unrelenting, than that of an excited, infuriated popu- 
lar assembly, — no body with which the rights and 
privileges of an inculpated individual are less safe, 
especially when headed and controlled by an eloquent, 
artful, and highly popular pastor who has taken part 
against that individual. Suppose, then, as the annals 
of Independency have too often exemplified, that a 
member is on trial for some alleged delinquency before 


a church of that denomination, — suppose the alleged 
offence to be one which has deeply alienated from him 
his pastor and all the particular friends of the pastor, 
— suppose these as one man rise up against him, and 
resolve to crush liim, — and suppose this pastor to be so 
generally admired and beloved by his people, that he is 
able to command an overwhelming majority of their 
votes in support of all his favourite measures, — what 
chance would such an accused person stand of an im- 
partial trial before such a tribunal? Not the smallest. 
He might be guilty, indeed, and deserve the heaviest 
sentence; but, even if innocent, his acquittal in such 
circumstances could be anticipated by none. He must 
become the victim of popular resentment, and, if he 
thus fall, he has no remedy — there is no tribunal to 
which he can appeal: he must lie down under the 
oppressive sentence — and there he must lie as long as 
he lives. He cannot regularly (that is, according to 
that ecclesiastical rule which pervades all religious de- 
nominations) go to another church; for the supposition 
is that he is excommunicated, and cannot be recom- 
mended as in "good standing" to any other ecclesiastical 
body. He must submit to the operation of the sentence, 
however unjust, until the excited and impassioned body 
which laid it upon him shall be disposed to relent, and 
consent to remove the deadly weight. 

It is not denied that there may be moments of pre- 
judice and passion, in the Presbyterian church, in which 
even the grave and experienced elders may be so 
wrought upon by different sorts of influence as to dis- 
pense justice very imperfectly, or even in a particular 
case to refuse it entirely. But then, in every such 
case, upon the Presbyterian plan, there is an im.mediate 
and perfect remedy. An individual who supposes him- 
self wronged may appeal to a higher tribunal, where his 
cause will be heaid by judicious, enlightened, impartial 
men who had no concern in its origin, and who, if 
wrong have been done, may be expected to afford 
prompt and complete redress. The oppressive sentence 


may be reversed — he may be reinstated, in spite of 
popular excitement, in all his Christian privileges, and 
even where his own reluctance or that of his former 
connections may forbid his return to the bosom of the 
same congregation in which he recently received such 
treatment, yet he may easily and regularly be at- 
tached to a neighbouring one of the same denomina- 
tion, and thus find the whole difficulty satisfactorily 

It is not asserted, then, that other churches, in the 
exercise of discipline, do in fact more frequently injure 
and oppress the subjects of their discipline than the 
Presbyterian church. Such an assertion, indeed, might 
perhaps be made without invidiousness, inasmuch as 
decisions formed and pronounced by the popular voice 
may be deemed, without disparagement to the indivi- 
duals who form them, less likely to be wise and impar- 
tial than when formed by a select body of enlightened 
and pious judges. But on this point no comparative 
estimate will be attempted. It is, however, confidently 
asserted, that when such wrong as that of which we 
speak unhappily occurs, the Presbyterian system affords 
more complete relief from oppression, and therefore 
furnishes more fixed security for the rights of the people 
than is found in any other denomination. No single 
man in our church, whatever title he may bear, can, 
by his single, perhaps capricious veto, deprive a pro- 
fessing Christian of his privileges as a church member, 
nor can it be done by a feverish popular assembly, 
impelled by its own prejudice or passion, or held under 
the sovereign control of one man. The best array of 
piety, wisdom, and knowledge which the society affords 
must sit in judgment in the case, and even if this judi- 
catory should give an unjust sentence, the religious 
rights of the individual are not prostrated or foreclosed, 
but may be reviewed by an impartial tribunal, and 
every privilege which he ought to enjoy secured. 

IV. Further, the plan of conducting church govern- 
ment with the aid of ruling elders, secures to ministers 



of the Word and sacraments counsel and support, in all 
their official proceedings, of the best possible kind. 
Supposing ministers of the gospel to be honest, pious, 
disinterested, and zealous in their appropriate work — 
to have no disposition at any time to encroach on the 
rights of others — and to be above the reach of that 
passion and prejudice which are so apt to assail even 
the honest, and which need a check in all, — even sup- 
pose ministers of the gospel to be above the reach of 
these evils, still they need counsel, information, and 
support in a multitude of cases, and cannot, with either 
safety or advantage, proceed without them. In all the 
affairs of the church, it is of the utmost importance 
that the interests of the whole body be constantly con- 
sulted, and that the whole body act an appropriate part 
in conducting its affairs. As there are no privileged 
orders to be aggrandized and elevated, so there are no 
ecclesiastical secrets to be kept, no private or selfish 
schemes to be tolerated. The more completely every 
plan is laid open to public view, understood and appre- 
ciated by every member, sustained by unanimous and 
willing effort, and made to promote the knowledge, 
purity, and order of the whole, the better. Of course, 
that plan of ecclesiastical regimen which is best adapted 
to attain these ends, and to attain them in the most 
certain, direct, quiet, and comfortable manner, is 
most worthy of our choice. 

Such a plan, it is firmly believed, is the presbyterian. 
In every department of official dut}^, the pastor of this 
denomination has associated with him a body of pious, 
wise, and disinterested counsellors, taken from among 
the people — acquainted with their views — participating 
in then* feelings — able to give sound advice as to 
the wisdom and practicability of plans which require 
general co-operation for carrying them into effect — and 
able also, after having aided in the formation of such 
plans, to return to their constituents, and so to advo- 
cate and recommend them as to secure general con- 
currence in their favour. 


This is an advantage, strictly speaking, peculiar to 
Presbyterianism. For although other forms of church 
government provide for associating laymen with the 
clergy in ecclesiastical business, yet, according to them, 
there is no divine warrant for it. It is a mere human 
expedient to meet an acknowledged exigency, for 
which those who make this acknowledgment suppose 
that the law of Christ makes no provision. And 
the human provision which they thus make is mani- 
festly liable to many objections. It consists either in 
constituting the whole body of the communicants the 
pastor's counsellors (which is liable to all the objections 
stated at large in a former chapter), or in providing 
for him a committee, orsmall delegation of laymen, who 
may be changed every year or oftener, and, of course, 
may have very little experience; and in some churches 
these la}' delegates are not required to be communicants, 
or even baptized persons, and consequently may have 
no real ecclesiastical responsibility for their conduct. 

V. The method of conducting discipline under con- 
sideration has also the advantage on the score of dis- 
patch an energy, as well as of wisdom and the security 
of equal rights. 

Where all the discipline that is exercised is in the 
hands of a single individual, without appeal, it must be 
confessed that in this case provision for dispatch and 
energy cannot be, at least in theorj^, more perfect; but 
where it is in the hands of the whole body of the church 
members, there is no saying how long litigation may 
be protracted, or in what perplexities and delays the 
plainest case may be involved. There are so many 
minds to be consulted, and every case upon this plan 
is so open to capricious or malignant interposition, that 
it is impossible, in ordinary circumstances, to calculate 
results or to forsee an end. 

Even on the Presbyterian plan, there is"no doubt 
that delay and perplexities may in some cases arise; 
but where the whole management of discipline, from 
its inceptive steps to the consummation of each case, is 


entirely committed to a select body of pious, intelligent, 
prudent, and experienced men, accustomed to the work 
and aware of the dangers to which their course is ex- 
posed, we may reasonably calculate on their decisions 
being as speedy, as unembarrassed, and as much lifted 
above the temporizing feebleness, or the tempestuous 
irregularity and confusion incident to popular manage- 
ment, as human infirmity will allow. 

VI. The plan of conducting discipline by means of 
a succession of judicatories, admitting of appeal, pro- 
vides for redressing many grievances which do not 
appear otherwise to admit of a remedy. According 
to the Independent, or strictly congregational system, 
as suggested in a preceding page, when a member of a 
church has been unjustly censured or cast out, he has 
no appeal, there is no tribunal to which he can apply 
for relief: yet his case may be an exceedingly hard 
one, loudly calling for redress; the cause of religion 
in his neighbourhood may be suffering severely by the 
situation in which he is placed. Ought there not to 
be some regular and adequate method of meeting and 
removing such a difficulty? In such of the churches 
of Connecticut as have entered into the plan of conso- 
ciational union, such a method has been to a certain 
extent provided, but it has been by adopting, to pre- 
cisely the same extent, a leading principle of Presby- 
terianism. When difficulties arise in a particular church, 
a tribunal is formed by a number of neighbouring 
ministers, together with one or more lay delegates from 
each of the churches represented, who may review, 
and, if need be, redress the alleged grievance. This is 
a Presbyterian feature in their system, and, so far as it 
goes, excellent and effectual. In the judgment, how- 
ever, of the venerable president Dwight, this plan is 
still defective, and defective precisely in the point at 
which it stops short of Presby terianism. The opinion 
which this distinguished congregational minister has 
expressed, in referenct; to the subject before us, will best 



appear by presenting it in its connection. It is as 
follows: — 

'' There are many cases in which individuals are 
dissatisfied on reasonable grounds with the judgment 
of a church. It is perfectly obvious that in a debate 
between two members of the same church, the parties 
may in many respects stand on unequal ground. One 
of them may be ignorant, without family connections, 
in humble circumstances, and possessed of little or no 
personal influence; the other may be a person of dis- 
tinction, opulent, powerfully connected, of superior 
understanding, and of great personal influence, not 
only in the church, but also in the country at large. 
As things are in this world, it is impossible that these 
persons should possess, in any controversy between 
them, equal advantages. Beyond all this, the church 
itself may be one party, and a poor and powerless 
member the other. In this case, also, it is unnecessary 
to observe, the individual must labour under every sup- 
posable disadvantage to which a righteous cause can be 
subjected. To bring the parties in these or any similar 
circumstances as near to a state of equality as human 
affairs will permit, it seems absolutely necessary that 
every ecclesiastical body should have its tribunal of 
appeals, a superior judicature, established by common 
consent, and vested with authoiity, to issue finally all 
those causes which, before a single church, are obviously 
liable to a partial decision." 

" Such a tribunal, in all the New England states 
except this (Connecticut), is formed by what is called a 
select council; that is, a council mutually chosen by the 
contending parties. This has long appeared to me a 
judicatory most unhappily constituted. The parties 
choose, of course, such persons as they suppose most 
likely to favour themselves; if, therefore, they commit 
no mistake in the choice, the council may be considered 
as divided in opinion before it assembles, and as fur- 
nishing every reason to believe that it will not be less 


divided afterwards. Its proceeding will frequently be 
marked with strong partialities, and its decision, if made 
at all, will not unfrequently be those of a bare majority. 
Coming from different parts of the country, it will 
have no common rules of proceeding, — after its deci- 
sions, its existence ceases. Its responsibility vanishes 
with its existence, as does also the sense of its authority. 
As the members frequently come from a distance, it 
can have no knowledge concerning those numerous 
particulars which respect the transactions to be judged 
of, and the characters, interests, views, and contri- 
vances of those who are immediately concerned. As 
individuals, these members may in some instances have 
much weight, and, in certain circumstances, may by 
their wisdom and piety do much good. But all this must 
arise solely from their personal character. As a coun- 
cil, as a judicatory, they can scarcely have any weight 
at all; for, as they disappear when the trial is ended, 
they are forgotten in their united character — and 
having no permanent existence, are regarded with no 
habitual respect, and even with no prejudice in their 
favour. Very often, also, as they are chosen on par- 
tial principles, they are led, of course, to partial deci- 
sions, and leave behind them very unhappy opinions 
concerning ecclesiastical government at large." 

" In this state (Connecticut) a much happier mode 
has been resorted to for the accomplishment of this 
object. The tribunal of appeal is here a consociation 
— a standing body composed of the settled ministers 
within an associational district, and delegates from the 
churches in the same district — a body always existing, 
of acknowledged authority, of great weight, possessed 
of all the impartiality incident to human affairs, feel- 
ing its responsibility as a thing of course — a court of 
record, having a regular system of precedents, and, 
from being frequently called to business of this nature, 
skilled to a good degree in the proper modes of pro- 


" The greatest defect in this system, as it seems to 
me, is the want of a still superior tribunal to recei^^e 
appeals in cases where they are obviously necessary. 
These, it is unnecessary for me to particularise. Every 
person extensively acquainted with ecclesiastical affairs 
knows that such cases exist. The only remedy pro- 
vided by the system of discipline established in this 
state for those who feel aggrieved by a consociational 
judgment, is to introduce a neighbouring consociation 
as assessors with that which has given the judgment, 
at a new hearing of the cause. The provision of this 
partial, imperfect tribunal of appeals, is clear proof 
that those who formed the system perceived the abso- 
lute necessity of some appellate jurisdiction. The judi- 
catory which they have furnished of this nature is 
perhaps the best which the churches of the state would 
at that, or any succeeding period, have consented to 
establish. Yet it is easy to see that, were they disposed, 
they might easily institute one which would be incom- 
parably better." 

" The only instance found in the scriptures of an 
appeal actually made for the decision of an ecclesiasti- 
cal debate, is that recorded in the fifteenth chapter of 
the Acts, and mentioned for another purpose in a 
former discourse. A number of the Jews in the church 
at Antioch insisted that the Gentile converts should 
be circumcised and be obliged to keep the law of Moses. 
Paul and Barnabas strenuously controverted this point 
with them. As no harmonious termination of the 
debate could be had at Antioch, an appeal was made 
' to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem;' but, as I 
observed in the discourse mentioned, it was heard and 
determined by the apostles, elders, and brethren. As 
this judicatory was formed under the direction of the 
apostles themselves, it must be admitted as a precedent 
for succeeding churches; and teaches us, on the one 
hand, that an appellate jurisdiction is both lawful and 
necessary in the church, and, on the other, that it is 


to be composed of both ministers and brethren, neces- 
sarily acting at the present time by delegation."* 

In this quotation and in the remarks which pre- 
ceded it, a reference, it will be perceived, is principally 
had to cases in which individual private members have 
considered themselves as aggrieved by the decisions of 
particular churches; but the same remarks, in sub- 
sance, are applicable to those cases in which difficulties 
arise between ministers and their congregations, or 
between two neighbouring congregations of the same 
name. No form of church government provides for 
the settlement of such difficulties so promptly or so 
well as the Presbyterian. Independency, strictly so 
called — that is, Independency, in strict adherence to 
its essential principles — furnishes for such evils no 
remedy whatever. Other sects furnish a nominal or 
partial remedy by investing some official individual 
with power to constitute a tribunal for settling such 
controversies; but the choice of the members of this 
tribunal is usually committed entirely to that indivi- 
dual, and it is, of course, in his power to make it like 
a " packed jury" in the hands of a corrupt returning 
officer, a mere instrument of oppression. But in the 
Presbyterian church everydifficulty of this kind is com- 
mitted for adjustment to a permanent responsible body 
— a body whose proceedings may be reviewed and 
examined, whose organization or members cannot be 
changed at the will of a corrupt individual who may 
choose to tamper with them, and whose decisions are 
not merely advisory, but authoritative. 

VII. Finally; the Presbyterian method of conduct- 
ing the government of the church is most friendly to 
the spread of the gospel, and fiu'nishes peculiar facili- 
ties for union and efficiency of action in promoting the 
great objects of Christian benevolence. 

It has been sometimes, indeed, alleged in opposition 
to this, that Presbyt3rianism is naturally, and almost 

* Theology Explained and Defended, vol. iv. 399, 401. 


necessarily cold and formal, and that congregational- 
ism has been found, in fact, more favourable to zeal 
and activity in spreading the gospel. It is by no means 
intended to depreciate either the zeal or the activity 
of our congregational brethren; justice demands that 
much be said in commendation of both; and jt will be 
no small praise to any other denomination to be found 
successfully emulating the intelligence, enterprize, and 
perseverance which they have often manifested in pur- 
suing the best interests of the Redeemer's kingdom. 
But when the organization of the Presbyterian church 
is examined, one would think that prejudice itself could 
scarcely deny its peculiar adaptedness for united, har- 
monious, and efficient action in every thing which it 
might become convinced was worthy of pursuit. 

In order to enable this church to act with the utmost 
energy and uniformity throughout its entire extent, 
there is no need of any new organization. It is orga- 
nized already, and in a manner as would seem as 
perfect as possible for united and harmonious action. 
A delegation from every church meet and confer 
several times in each year, as a matter of course, in 
presbytery. What opportunity could be imagined 
more favourable for forming and executing plans of 
co-operation among all the churches thus united and 
statedly convening? They have the same opportunity 
and every advantage of meeting at pleasure that can 
be enjoyed by a voluntary association, with the addi- 
tional advantage that they act under a system of eccle- 
siastical rules and authority which enable them to go 
forward with more energy and uniformity in their 
adopted course. If a more extended union of Presby- 
terian churches than of those which belong to a single 
presbytery be desired for any particular purpose, the 
regular meetings of the synods, each comprising a 
number of presbyteries, afford the happiest opportunit}^, 
without any new or extra combination, of effecting 
the object. The representatives of perhaps one hun- 
dred and fifty churches, assembled in their ecclesiasti- 


cal capacity, and in the name of Christ, could hardly be 
conceived to convene in circumstances more perfectly 
favourable to their co-operating in any worthy and hal- 
lowed cause, with one heart, and with the most perfect 
concentration of effort. And when we extend our 
thoughts to the General Assembly, the bond of union, 
counsel, and co-operation, for more than two thousand 
churches, all represented and combined in the same 
cause; we see a plan which, in theory at least, it would 
seem difficult to adapt more completely to union of heart 
and hand in any good work. The most admirable 
combination, with every possible advantage, exists be- 
forehand. Nothing is in any case wanting but the 
animating spirit necessary for applying it to the proper 
objects. The machinery, in all its perfection, is already 
constructed, and ready to be set in motion. Only let 
the impelling principle, which is necessary to set all 
moral conbinations into vigorous movement, be present, 
and operate with due power, and it may be asserted 
that a more advantageous system for ecclesiastical 
enterprise was never devised. 

It is not a sufficient reply to this statement to say, 
that the Congregational Churches of New England, 
have in fact, done more within the last thirty years in 
the way of contribution and effort for extending the 
Redeemer's kingdom, than any equal number of 
churches of the Presbyterian denomination in the 
United States. It is impossible to contemplate the in- 
telligence, harmony of feeling, and pious enterpise of 
the mass of our congregational brethren, without sen- 
timents at once of respect and gratitude. But is not 
the general fact alluded to, chiefly referable to other 
causes than the form of their church government ? No 
one, it is believed, can doubt for a moment that this is 
the case. Their church government is manifestly less 
adapted to promote union and effective co-operation, 
than most others. But their intelligence, their piety, 
their common origin, their homogenous character, their 
compact situation, and the sameness of the instruction, 


the excitements, and the agencies which they enjoy, 
have all tended to prepare them for united and har- 
monious co-operation. Only give to the members of 
churches organized on the Presbyterian plan, the same 
advantages, the same natural principles of cohesion, 
the same intellectual and moral stimulants, and the 
same pervading spirit, and can any one believe that 
there would be found less union and less energy in pur- 
suing the best interests of man? We must deny the 
connection between cause and effect, before we can 
doubt that there would be more of both. It has been 
sometimes, indeed, said as a supposed exemplification 
of the unfavourable influence of Presbyterianism, that 
the churches called Presbyterian in South Britain have 
generally declined, both in orthodoxy and piety, within 
the last hundred years, while the Independents havegen- 
erally and happily maintained their character for both. 
But the fact is, that when the English Presbyterians 
gradually fell into those errors for which the greater 
part of them are now distinguished, they at the same 
time gradually renounced the Presbyterian form of 
government, although they retained the name. There 
are not now, and have not been for many years, any 
real Presbyterians in England, excepting those who 
are directly or indirectly connected with churches in 
Scotland. After all, it is not pretended that the Pres- 
byterian form of church government can of itself 
infuse spiritual life and activity into an ecclesiastical 
body; but that where vitality, and zeal, and resources 
exist, there is no form of ecclesiastical organization in 
the world so well adapted to unite counsels, and 
invigorate efforts, as that under which we are so happy 
as to live. 

It makes no part however, of the design of the 
author of this volume to assail or to depreciate the 
ecclesiastical order of other denominations. On the 
contrary, wherever he finds those who evidently bear 
the image of Christ, and who appear to be engaged in 
advancing his kingdom, whatever form of church order 


they may prefer, he can hail them with unquahfied 
affection as Christian brethren. The truth is, he would 
not have alluded to any other portion of the Christian 
Church than that with which he is more immediately' 
connected, had it appeared possible without doing so, 
fully to illustrate the character and advantages of our 
own form of government. His ardent wish is, not to 
alienate by high claims, or unkind language, but 
rather to conciliate and bind together by every thing 
that can minister to brotherly love. And his daily 
prayer is, that all the Evangelical churches in our land 
may be more and more united in principle and effort, 
for extending that " kingdom which is not meat and 
drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy 






t r